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USA: What is the diplomatic Olympic boycott doing?  |  Sports |  DW

USA: What is the diplomatic Olympic boycott doing? | Sports | DW

The Englishman Charles Cunningham Boycott, born in 1832, was such a bad man that at one time no one wanted to do anything with him. The tenants of his lands in Ireland no longer paid their rent, all the staff resigned, no one bought or sold him, and not even the mail returned to the county what to deliver. Since then, the collective rejection strategy has been called boycott, based on the form of protest used by Irish farmers.

The United States has now announced its diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics from February 4-20, 2022. As White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, the administration of President Joe Biden will not send diplomatic or official representatives to China. The background to this is the ongoing “genocide” in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and other human rights abuses. The United States government will encourage American athletes from the homeland. When asked why the US government refrained from a complete boycott of the Games, Psaki said she did not want to penalize athletes who trained extensively for the Games.

Are other governments following the example of the United States?

Possibility to damage games

Jürgen Mittag, a sports policy expert at the German Sports University in Cologne, said of DW before the US government’s decision. The world expects the process to reach its climax in mid-January. Then, according to Maytag, “One will be able to see if there is really a concerted action, that is, if there will be more heads of state and government that there will not be. In this case, the Olympics would definitely be damaged. And the Chinese leadership would have been damaged. If she didn’t realize what she was really hoping for from these games: positive submission and, above all, greater approval for their country.

A protest by an Olympic competitor in the Australian capital, Sydney

Boycotts and threats for political reasons have a long tradition in the Olympic Games. For example, Spain, the Netherlands and Switzerland did not participate in the 1956 Summer Games in Melbourne – a protest against the invasion of Hungary by the forces of the Warsaw Pact. In the 1960s and 1970s, sub-Saharan African nations used boycott threats to prevent the apartheid states of South Africa and Rhodesia from taking off.

After Russia occupied Afghanistan at the end of 1979, 42 countries boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow the following year. Russia and 19 other countries responded four years later by walking away from the Los Angeles Games. In 1988, North Korea sent no players to the games in the South Korean capital of Seoul, and five other countries followed suit. Even before the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, there were calls for a boycott due to human rights abuses in Tibet, but they had no consequences.

More than just a “county light”

A diplomatic boycott, sometimes called a politician’s boycott, functions as a “soft” version of a boycott of active people – but only at first glance, as Jürgen Mitag explains: “In the end, depending on the severity of this boycott, every single event can be damaged to a certain extent” . As in the case of the European Football Championships in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, when several European heads of government as well as the European Commission rejected all invitations to attend matches in Ukraine to protest against the imprisonment of then-opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko.

Photo of Professor Jürgen Mitag

Professor Jürgen Mittag heads the Institute for European Sports Development at the Sports University of Cologne

In contrast, the absence of former Federal President Joachim Gauck from the 2014 Sochi Winter Games made headlines in Germany, but not internationally. Gauck justified his rejection of human rights violations in Russia. Scientist Maytag says the diplomatic boycott develops as the impact of more governments getting involved – particularly when confronted with countries like Russia or China: “China is a heavy global political power, a global power that initiates the means of diplomatic boycotts because it fears that China will respond with adverse reactions elsewhere. This can lead to inconveniences that one does not necessarily want to suffer.”

Amnesty: Neither for nor against the boycott

According to Amnesty International, the human rights situation in China did not improve after the 2008 Summer Games – on the contrary, as the recent case of tennis player Peng Shuai showed. The human rights organization called on “foreign governments to take advantage of the 2022 Winter Olympics to draw attention to the dire human rights situation and demand sustainable improvement to which the Chinese authorities have committed,” said Dirk Bleiter, China expert at Amnesty German DW. “It is up to foreign governments to choose the appropriate format. Amnesty itself does not support or oppose a gaming boycott, whatever it may be.”

EU sunflower test

At the beginning of July, the European Parliament called on EU governments to “refuse invitations to government representatives and diplomats to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as long as the Chinese government does not have a clear improvement in the human rights situation in Hong Kong, the Uyghur region in Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia.” interior and other parts of China. Jürgen Mittag of the Sports University in Cologne sees the Winter Games in Beijing and then the FIFA World Cup in Qatar as a ‘sunflower test’, in other words a touchstone for the European Union: ‘I made sports diplomacy one of its mottos, very specific tools designed, but it didn’t really work with them. or to a very limited extent.

The Olympic Stadium in Berlin is lit up in the colors of the rainbow

The Olympic Stadium in Berlin in rainbow colors – as a symbol against sexism

The rainbow lighting debate during last summer’s European Football Championships demonstrated how much human rights focus is now on the sport’s agenda. “The relationship between sport and politics is currently being rebalanced and renegotiated,” Maytag said. It is not yet clear which direction this path will take and where it will end. The diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games could provide the first clues. By the way, for Charles Boycott in the nineteenth century, the path ended in defeat: if we put aside the measures to boycott Irish farmers, the human trafficker left the island.

The article was updated following the US government’s decision.