US Enacts Diplomatic Boycott of Winter Olympics

Human rights issues in China have pushed the United States government to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

The Winter Olympics, held every four years, features a variety of sports played on snow or ice such as snowboarding, skiing, and bobsledding. The next installment of the games will begin on Friday, February 4 and end on Sunday, February 20, in Beijing, China.

However, in recent years there has been uproar surrounding China’s infringement of human rights, particularly regarding the treatment of the Uyghur community and free speech in Hong Kong. Over the past few years, Uyghur Muslims have allegedly been detained and involuntarily placed in camps in the Xinjiang region for “re-education”. China has denied all accusations surrounding these acts. Additionally, China has gained a political hold on Hong Kong, and with it they’ve taken away many rights of Hong Kong’s citizens.

In response to outcry, on Thursday, November 18, 2021, President Joe Biden announced that the United States government would enact a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics. The diplomatic boycott would mean that no U.S. government officials would attend the Beijing Olympic Games; however, American athletes would still appear and compete at the games.

Although athletes would still be allowed to participate, many are upset with President Biden’s decision to boycott. Kate Hartman, spokesperson of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said that “[Boycotts] have been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues.” The Committee’s support is necessary to implement a full boycott, and they have already expressed their disapproval. The Committee wants the governments to address these human rights issues on a political level, rather than involving and negatively impacting athletes. American fans also remain divided on the issue. Maccoy Bary ’23 said, “It’s a bit tough for me as I grew up watching the Olympics, it was always a big part of my childhood—particularly the Winter Olympics and hockey—but I understand the reasoning behind the boycott, and I would support it if the US decided to do it.”

Doubts have been growing among some American fans regarding the effectiveness of a diplomatic boycott as American athletes would still compete. Noah Scarano ’24 said, “To me, it’s not a boycott. It’s more of a performative act. I think it’s a beneficial idea to boycott this blatant violation of human rights, but the way they are going about it will not bring the change they are seeking. If American athletes go in and compete, China’s economy will still be boosted, and therefore the actions of the United States’ officials are futile to those whose rights are being infringed.”

The idea of a global boycott has been raised in the West, particularly within countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, which have also been facing pressure to implement a boycott. However for a global boycott to be successful, all countries would have to participate because a country does not want to be the first to announce a boycott in fear that the others will back down. Canada would be most likely to propose a global boycott as it has the most public support. Conversely, Great Britain’s fears of destroying their economic relationship with China causes some uncertainty regarding a boycott.

Although Biden announced the U.S. diplomatic boycott, the prospect of a global boycott remains unlikely. However, with the Winter Olympic Games beginning in less than three months, international governments are continuing to find ways to hold China accountable for its human rights violations.