What Does the Diplomatic Boycott of the 2022 Olympics Really Mean?

You may have heard recently that the US is planning a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, set to be in Beijing, China, but what does it mean? At the most basic level, it means that the US will not be sending any public figures or government officials to act as representatives of the country, but they will be sending athletes to compete. Let’s dive a little deeper into this. 

You might be asking yourself what caused the diplomatic boycott in the first place. The answer is complicated and nuanced, as most topics in foreign affairs are. Essentially, the US is choosing not to send representatives because of a combination of egregious violations of human rights that are being committed in China right now. The first and arguably most important is the “genocide and crimes against humanity” (as Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary put it) that are being committed against a large population of Uyghurs–a, largely Muslim, ethnic minority group– in Xinjiang. These acts of genocide have included forced sterilization, forced use of contraceptives, and religious and ethnic persecution. As if that alone weren’t enough, the second reason the US chose the route of a diplomatic boycott was the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who, after accusing a Chinese government official of sexual assault, was nowhere to be seen for almost a month. Thirdly, there is the notable attack on democracy and free speech that China has imposed on Hong Kong in recent years, despite the 1997 agreements to have China take over Hong Kong, but allow its capitalist and democratic system to remain at least until 2047. 

The US chose a diplomatic boycott rather than a full boycott (like they did for the 1980 Moscow Olympics) for the sake of the athletes, understanding that a chance to compete in the Olympic games might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them. Instead, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten, who were originally slated to appear, will remain stateside. 

After the announcement of the US diplomatic boycott, other countries began to follow suit. Australia joins the US, while Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan are essentially performing a diplomatic boycott without calling it one. The idea behind these diplomatic boycotts is to punish China for its human rights abuses by not sending government officials, therefore stripping the event of its legitimacy, but against the millions of viewers the games will have worldwide, and the billions of dollars invested by sponsors like Coca-Cola, or Procter and Gamble, and broadcasting companies like NBCUniversal, some say that Secretary Buttigieg’s presence will not be felt too deeply. 

All of this comes with serious complaints about the International Olympic Committee (IOC), not only for its role in picking Beijing for the Olympics, but also for turning a blind eye and claiming that the games should continue as an apolitical event in spite of the egregious abuses that are happening. The IOC not only continues to stand behind the decision they made for the location, but in previous games and these ones, they are known to enforce strict rules against athletes performing acts of protest during the games, falling under the same idea that it helps keep the event apolitical, but failing to recognize that rule as an infringement on the right to free speech or the right to protest. These Olympic games will call into question whether or not the event can continue as an international and apolitical event, or if the days of easy-going Olympics are behind us. 

Written by Marianna Pecora

Read More: 

New York Times- https://www.nytimes.com/article/diplomatic-boycott-olympics.html 

Washington Post- https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/olympics/2022/01/16/olympics-sponsors-china-human-rights/ 

Los Angeles Times- https://www.latimes.com/sports/olympics/story/2021-12-26/human-rights-china-ioc-2022-beijing-olympics-peng-shuai