To boycott or not to boycott the Olympic Games in Beijing?

The protests against the torch relay continue.

Questions:

1. To boycott or not to boycott the Beijing Games from politicians and perhaps athletes, and why?

2. Was the boycott of the Olympic Games in 1980 in Moscow worth of something or  not, and why?

Answers:

Derick Hulme, Professor of Political Science, Alma College

1. The current protests directed against China via the torch relay demonstrate once again the utility of sport, and especially the Olympic Games, in pursuing a variety of political objectives.  While the Tibet issue currently is the primary focus of attention, other issues (involving such matters as Chinese policy toward Darfur, China’s stance on global warming, and China’s posture toward freedom of religion) are likely to garner increased attention in the coming months.  China’s government is going to confront such increasing pressures, while being unable to pursue Tiannamen Square type repression (which, if done, would risk a significant boycott of the Games themselves.)

2. The 1980 Olympic boycott, while having some difficulties in execution, effectively denied the Soviet Union its primary objective, that of gaining recognition as a legitimate state in the international system. Moscow’s significant investment of political capital, financial resources, and diplomatic effort was thwarted as the 1980 Games was marginalized in the eyes of the international community.

Richard Baum, Professor, Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Whether or not to boycott the Olympic Games is a political question. I don’t believe that the Olympics should be politicized, therefore i oppose boycotts in principle. However, the decision by a head of state (or other national political leader) not to attend the opening ceremony is a personal choice that need not be considered (or labelled) as a boycott. Britain’s Prince Charles, P.M. Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all indicated that they will not attend the opening of the Games, but none have called for a boycott. As a matter of personal conscience, non-attendance is a valid option, and may send an important message to Chinese leaders; but an organized boycott is something else entirely, and would escalate political polarization to the point where the future of the Olympic Games themselves may be placed in serious jeopardy.

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