Amid Rumours of US Boycott of Beijing Olympics, How Could the Move Affect the Games?
14:59 GMT 06.12.2021 (Updated: 13:26 GMT 06.08.2022)
A Sunday report by CNN alleged that the Biden administration is soon to announce a US diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will take place in Beijing. While the reported boycott will not impact athletes, the mere news of it has impacted the diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Chinese officials have raised eyebrows at the idea of Washington announcing a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, noting that such a move would be politically motivated and stem from US officials not being invited to the Games in the first place. Beijing has also vowed "firm countermeasures" in case the US proceeds with the idea.
Still, the diplomatic boycott, even in the event of it being announced, does not mean that the United States will not be represented in the Chinese capital during the Winter Olympics. Since US athletes will not be impacted, many observers have already noted that the diplomatic move by the Biden administration will be "more of a symbolic protest that anything else".
As long as athletes have the opportunity to go and compete for their countries, the US boycott will not impact the games significantly, Jeff J. Brown, author of The China Trilogy
and blogger at China Rising Radio Sinoland
"Since a diplomatic boycott is merely Kabuki theatre, we can expect most of the US’s allies to join in", Brown says, acknowledging that Biden's lead may be followed by other US allies (several of them, for example Australia and Lithuania, have already mulled the possibility of a similar boycott as well). "Realising that America’s 'friends' are vassals first, China will huff and puff in the media, but knowingly take it in diplomatic stride. The Games will go on".
However, the "politicisation" of sports, and the Winter Olympics in particular, has still triggered concerns among experts.
The possible boycott will add another piece to the political puzzle that already consists of the disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai and the spat between China and Lithuania
over the latter allowing the opening of a Taiwanese Representative Office in the country, Francesco Sisci, a Beijing-based China expert, author, and columnist argues.
He suggests that Washington could see the squabble with Lithuania as China not being "earnest in adhering to international norms and thus it shouldn’t enjoy a normal winter game".
"The boycott has not been announced yet, and one hopes it won’t be as it would further damage the political atmosphere around China", he says. "I would hope that China could downplay a possible boycott. It is extremely important not to play up the situation. On the contrary, I’m afraid Beijing will feel obliged to retaliate severely. The winter games are China’s face, and this insult ruins China’s face, its pride, then the reaction could be harsh".
Beijing has been warning Washington not to move ahead with the idea of boycotting the Olympics since such suggestions emerged. President Joe Biden had said earlier that a boycott was something his administration was "considering" amid the US brainstorming on how to pique Beijing over alleged human rights abuses targeting Muslim minorities in China, tensions in South China Sea, and many other issues. China, in its turn, criticised the American "concerns" as interference in its internal affairs.
Despite calls not to politicise sports coming from all sides, it appears that the reality is that politics and sports have historically been closely tied, according to Jeff J. Brown.
"Remember the boycotts of the West against the USSR in 1980 (Moscow) and most communist-socialist countries reciprocating?" he said, referring to the 14 Eastern Bloc countries boycotting the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. "As a symbol of prestige and national honour, sports have probably been ‘political’, going back to the Ancient Greeks".
The last time Washington imposed a full boycott of the Games was when former US President Jimmy Carter's administration totally withdrew the US from the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Now, even though US athletes will still attend the games in Beijing, the atmosphere seems to be gloomily similar to that of the Cold War, per Sisci.
"Right or wrong, we are going back to a full scale Cold War. The first one with the USSR took actually many years to shape up", he says. "The pace of this one is much faster, and its outlines are also different. But we better understand as soon as possible what the situation is we are in".