Sports

President Biden considering diplomatic boycott of China Olympics

This is not your uncle’s Olympic boycott that Joe Biden is talking about.

This is not your uncle’s Olympic boycott that Joe Biden is talking about.
Illustration: Getty/Shutterstock

When politics and sports collide, people tend to lose their shit. “This is supposed to be my happy place!” “How dare you use your platform to speak out against racism!” “Loud noises!”

That’s why it’s interesting that President Joe Biden has come under increasing pressure to boycott the Winter Olympics in China, something he’s apparently pondering. Yo, I thought athletes were supposed to shut up and ski?

However, a full-blown Cold War “We aren’t showing up” boycott is not what’s being proposed. The one Biden is looking at is a diplomatic boycott, which means political delegations will not be glad-handed but rather will be no-handed (bad-handed?) because the U.S. wouldn’t be sending their delegates (back-handed?).

You can file this under “provocations, pointless.” Not sending your lackeys to the Olympics does nothing worthwhile because they aren’t the people who matter. Politicians make political statements as part of the job requirement, but when athletes take stances it comes with added weight, risk and impact because they’re doing it voluntarily and are often more influential than your run-of-the-mill government official.

Either Biden doesn’t understand that, or this is a move to appease a side that I — or anyone in the political arena — have yet to identify. A diplomatic boycott is almost as confusing as how diplomatic immunity was used by the South Africans in Lethal Weapon 2.

As an onlooker, give me Tommie Smith or give me 1980, because this is a sporting event, not the G20 summit. Who do you think China is more concerned about showing up: Jill Biden or Chloe Kim? (I know Shaun White would’ve worked better there as far as notable winter athlete references, but fuck that guy. Kim is such a beast. Who’s ready for some Olympic snowboarding coverage? I’ll take the First Lady’s accommodations in Beijing if you need someone to fill an airbnb reservation, Joe.)

If the U.S. were to sit out the Games and convince a few other countries to join them, as was the case during the 1980 Moscow Games (a response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), then there could be an argument made about this having any effect as a political statement. You also have to consider China probably doesn’t care what other countries think at this point anyway.

From an athlete’s point of view, I’d be pretty annoyed if I showed up to the Olympics and had to answer questions about a bunch of suits in Washington staging a diplomatic boycott and not about where my cab 12 best fits into my run. No one is asking that technical of a question, but you know what I mean. Let these people focus on the Olympics; they’re kind of a big deal.

And who’s to say athletes haven’t already planned their own protests. News about the treatment of the Uyghur population, Tibet, the South China Sea conflicts, and the missing tennis star who’d just reported a sexual abuse etc. are all on this thing called the internet, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that was true.

A personal protest also can feel like you’re pushing an agenda if it comes off as state sponsored. These athletes would be politicized before their first practice because they’re wearing the colors of the country that just diplomatically boycotted.

In some instances, country and athlete align on a political stance, and in other instances the athlete is not only protesting other countries’ actions but also those of its own.

There wasn’t any record of another Olympic diplomatic boycott that I could find, so this seems like the definition of a political stunt. Who thought this was a good idea? Couldn’t we just censure China? That seems to be the self-aggrandizing move we were looking for here. A formal disapproval of China. (Yes, I just Googled “What is a censure?”)

Who knows what angle the right will have on this — it’s not enough of a boycott, keep politics out of sports, send our athletes as double agents to steal their secrets — but it won’t be good. And at best the left is going to get a golf clap, and at worst they’ll hear calls that the boycott wasn’t harsh enough.

The only people who benefit from this move are people like me who get to write things like this because your politics were injected into my sports and my job is to try to make sense of it. Yet the only sense I can make of this is more loud noises! 

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