Boycotting Winter Olympics: A halfhearted attempt to deter China

By KS Tomar

To isolate Russia, former US President, Jimmy Carter had given a boycott call for the Moscow Games in 1980 over the invasion of Afghanistan but most of his European allies refrained from supporting the move. In retaliation, the Soviet Union led more than a dozen countries in a boycott of the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. The Olympic game being used for diplomatic maneuvering is not new and history seems repeating itself again as XXIV Olympic Winter Games chugged off in Beijing on February 4.

US President Joe Biden has given a call for a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Olympics to protest against Beijing’s human rights abuses, especially its treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. As per reports, China is being accused of incarcerating more than one million Uyghurs in harsh “political education” camps and prisons, while indoctrinating their children and engaging in torture. But China has vociferously denied the allegations terming them as “baseless”.

Beijing has denounced the boycotts as “posturing” and has vowed to retaliate with unspecified “countermeasures” against the US over its decision to stage a diplomatic boycott of the Games. China says Australia, UK and US will ‘pay price’ for Winter Olympics snub.

US assertion aims to reign in the dragon

Experts believe that America’s decision may have far-reaching effects, But Biden reportedly wants to achieve two objectives. First, exposing China’s hypocrisy about complete disregard for human rights and excesses being committed on Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in that region including mass detentions and forced use of contraception and sterilizations.

Second, it is a boycott by the officials and not athletes, which does not attract much criticism from the domestic front. It is a subtle attempt to denigrate China in the eyes of the world by creating opinions against its policy of ‘suppression’.

The strategy seems to work as China has agreed to let the United Nation’s human rights chief visit Xinjiang in the first half of 2022 after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Olympics, media reports said.

A mixed bag of results at the global level   

Biden’s move has not fetched the desired result globally as less than half a dozen countries. Britain, Australia, Canada, Kosovo, and a few others have joined the US in the boycott call. Japan also will not send its officials to the winter Olympics but it has been cautious not to use the word “Boycott”. Moreover, America’s decision to boycott Beijing winter Olympics may further widen the existing wedge between the two nations which will have its reprisal in the summer Olympics scheduled in Mexico City in 2028.

Across the world, more than one hundred eighty human rights organizations and members of US Congress have expressed concern over the abuses against the Uyghur community as well as a crackdown on free speech in Hong Kong and interpret the winter Olympic boycott call an opportunity to hold Dragon accountable for its crimes without punishing the athletes. It will contribute a lot in attracting public attention in the world. But China seems not deterred by international criticism.

Biden and other leaders may say that full boycotts are blunt instruments that often do little harm to boycotted nations while inflicting real pain on the boycotters. Surely, the star athletes are robbed of their peak windows to medal thereby making things worse, bitter fissures can be opened between the politicians who declare them and the competitors, domestic sports officials, broadcasters, corporate sponsors, and domestic viewers who suffer from those decisions.

In all, a halfhearted attempt that is unlikely to deter toffee-nosed China.

(Writer is a senior Journalist based in Shimla, India.)

Image courtesy of Image Courtesy: The Radio Times

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