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Possible U.S. Boycott of 2022 Winter Olympics May Not Affect Athlete Participation

The State Department said recently that they are considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

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After calls from activists and political figures, the State Department spokesman said that the U.S. is considering discussing a joint diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China with American allies. The boycott consideration comes two weeks after the U.S. formally sanctioned two Chineses officials for their roles in human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the northwest region of China.

According to CNBC, State Department Spokesman Ned Price is working with American allies and considering a joint diplomatic boycott of the games.

“A coordinated approach will not only be in our interest but also in the interest of our allies and partners,” said Price in the article. He later tweeted, “As I said, we don’t have any announcement regarding the Beijing Olympics. 2022 remains a ways off, but we will continue to consult closely with allies and partners to define our common concerns and establish our shared approach to the PRC.”

On Tuesday, Axios reported that a senior State Department official backtracked from Price’s statement and claimed that the State Department is not discussing boycotts with American allies. “Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed,” stated the official in this article. “We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners. The State Department Spokesperson did not say we had, contrary to some reporting.”

A diplomatic boycott does not mean athletes will be barred from competing but instead means that senior government officials, including the president, would not attend the Games.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) is against any formal boycott. An official statement from the USOPC reads that they “oppose Games boycotts because they negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues. We believe the more effective course of action is for the governments of the world and China to engage directly on human rights and geopolitical issues.”

As for the US Ski and Snowboard team, they are also against boycotts more broadly. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard supports the USOPC in its position as it relates to a boycott of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games,” says spokesperson Andrew Gauthier.

Last month in an op-ed for The New York Times, Utah Senator Mitt Romney took the middle ground and called for both a formal diplomatic and economic boycott of the 2022 Games. While encouraging athletes, their families, and their coaches to attend, Romney, a key organizer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, called for American spectators and corporations to not attend the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

“American spectators—other than families of our athletes and coaches—should stay at home, preventing us from contributing to the enormous revenues the Chinese Communist Party will raise from hotels, meals and tickets,” writes Romney in the op-ed. “American corporations that routinely send large groups of their customers and associates to the Games should send them to U.S. venues instead.”

According to the AP, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded by claiming any sort of boycott “is doomed to failure.”

“China firmly rejects the politicization of sports and opposes using human rights issues to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” says Lijian in the article.

Construction of the ski jumping venue in Zhangjiakou, China
The ski jumping site in Zhangjiakou, China when it was under construction in July. Photo: China News Service / Getty Images

The last time the U.S. boycotted the Olympics was when they were hosted in Moscow in 1980. That protest, which included 65 other countries including China, was in protest to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and included an athlete boycott. The Soviet invasion lasted for eight years after the games took place.

While there are no calls for athletes to boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, a collection of activists are now focusing on corporate sponsors of the Games, which are overwhelmingly American. These calls come after the same group failed to get the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to move the Games out of China.

According to the AP, sponsors account for 18 percent of the IOC’s income, while 73 percent comes from selling broadcast rights. American broadcaster NBC accounts for half of all of the revenue from broadcast rights, which is roughly 36 percent of the IOC’s total income.

For American and European skiers, the more pressing issue for next season’s Olympic Events is a lack of experience with the newly constructed speed venues. Due to Covid-19, both the men’s and women’s test events for the Beijing Downhill and super-G events were canceled, meaning that few, if any, ski racers planning to compete in the 2022 Winter Games have even visited the venue.

“Nobody’s seen it,” U.S Ski Team member Mikaela Shiffrin said in an interview with The New York Times. “And that’s definitely going to add a layer of chaos when we arrive for the first time at the Games. Like, where do we go? What’s happening here?”