The Diplomatic Boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

As China’s capital decks itself up to host the Winter Olympics in February 2022, several countries have announced a diplomatic boycott of the event.

What is Diplomatic Boycott?

A diplomatic boycott is when countries do not send an official government delegation to a place or event. The United States and four other countries have participated in a diplomatic boycott over the China’s human rights abuses.

The Impacts of Diplomatic Boycotts on Participation in the Olympic Games

No athlete has even hinted at skipping the Games, meaning all those who are eligible and have qualified will take part.

Unlike the 1980 Moscow Olympics and 1984 Los Angeles Games, a period when thousands of athletes did not participate due to the prevailing political situation at the time, athletes and officials from all countries will continue to take part in the Winter Olympics in Beijing unhindered.

One of the key differences between then and now is money. The Olympics now are a billion-dollar enterprise and a boycott could cost teams and a sport a fortune, especially the US since American broadcaster NBC pays billions of dollars to the International Olympic Committee to show the Games.

Reasons behind the Diplomatic Boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

The United States and Australian governments have deferred their participation in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on the grounds of human rights concerns related to China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang Province.

China has come under intense scrutiny over its treatment of the Uyghur Muslims. While announcing the decision, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, referred to the “genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang Province where there has allegedly been a severe crackdown on Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities by the Chinese government.

The recent case of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who accused a former top government official of sexually assaulting her, also contributed to this decision. Moments after Peng Shuai made her allegations, on Chinese social media, the posts were taken down and she disappeared from public view for days. The International Olympic Committee has said it has spoken to her, but concerns over her safety remain.

Diplomatic Boycott by Barack Obama

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama, his deputy Joseph Biden and first lady Michelle Obama skipped the Sochi Winter Games in Russia.

Their decision, although not a formal boycott, was seen as an outcome of Russia’s crackdown on gay rights and ‘possibly motivated by Russia’s giving political asylum to Edward Snowden, who leaked classified documents about American spying’, according to The New York Times.

Other boycotts in the past Olympics

The most prominent boycott came in 1980, when more than 60 countries, led by the United States, boycotted the Summer Games in Moscow because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the previous year.

The boycott crippled the fields in many events at the Games, and also incensed American athletes, many of whom lost their only chance to participate at an Olympics.

In 1984, the Soviet Union led more than a dozen countries in a boycott of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Although the cited reason was security concerns, there is little doubt the move was essentially a reprisal for the 1980 boycott.

While a handful of nations had boycotted for various reasons at earlier Games, the first major boycott of an Olympics came in 1976 when about 30 mostly African nations sat out the Montreal Games. They contended that because a New Zealand rugby team had toured apartheid South Africa, New Zealand should be barred from the Games.

Effects of boycott Olympics

The boycott of the Moscow Games did not appear to have any effect on Soviet foreign policy; troops from the country remained in Afghanistan until 1989.

An international consensus seems to have emerged that sweeping boycotts that include athletes are ineffective and serve only to penalize sportsmen and women.

Cotton notwithstanding, few Olympic or government officials are seriously considering preventing athletes from attending the Beijing Games.

While boycotts may not change policy, they do run the risk of reprisals, as was seen in 1984.

Sure enough, Chen Weihua of China Daily, a state media publication, has called for China to boycott the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028.