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Olympic boycott a personal choice

Zach Einterz | Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Recent events in Tibet have intensified calls for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The United States has seen increased pressure from human rights groups but broad bipartisan support for the Beijing Games is unlikely to change, and this past weekend, both Nancy Pelosi and Condoleezza Rice reiterated that the U.S. would not pursue a boycott.

For once, our government officials are doing something right; minding their own business and refraining from making a decision that isn’t theirs to make. As with all things, the decision to boycott the Olympics should be a matter of individual choice, not government coercion.

A boycott of the Olympics punishes athletes who have spent many years in training and made countless sacrifices to get to the top of their sport. American athletes shouldn’t be forced to abandon lifelong goals so that our political elite can satisfy their arrogant opportunism.

Furthermore, past experience has shown that Olympic boycotts do not bring about political change. The Soviet Union in 1980 and the U.S. in 1984 both emerged from their respective Games with an even greater sense of pride. A boycott of the Beijing Olympics by the U.S. would be seen by the Chinese people as an unjust attack on their country. It would likely strengthen the Chinese regime at home and fan the flames of nationalism.

Even if the U.S. wanted to boycott the Games, it would have a hard time justifying it without sounding hypocritical. Human rights activists argue that China’s support for the Sudan and its unwillingness to pressure the Sudanese government to bring reconciliation to Darfur is reason enough for an Olympic boycott. China buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports and in turn, sells weapons to the Sudanese government. However, China’s military and economic support for Sudan is hardly different from our military and economic support for repressive and unpopular governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan.

China is also repeatedly criticized for domestic human rights violations, including its suppressions of political dissidents, restrictions on freedom of the press, and discrimination against ethnic minorities. Yet as long as the U.S. authorizes unjust war, rendition, torture, capital punishment, and domestic spying, our rhetoric on human rights will sound a lot like self-righteous grandstanding. China’s one-child policy is considered by many to be authoritarian and morally repugnant, but it is no less benign than the United States’ sanction of the 1.2 million abortions that are performed in our country every year.

Undoubtedly, China’s abuses are of a greater degree than ours, but there can be no denying that America’s foreign policy tactics and failure to uphold basic civil rights has resulted in the loss of our moral credibility within the international community. Until the U.S. gets its own house in order, we will have trouble convincing China to do the same to theirs.

The absence of a government-mandated boycott does not prohibit anyone from boycotting the Games under their own will. Corporations have the right to pull their sponsorship, individual athletes can choose to sit out, and sports fans all over the world have the right not to watch the Games.

Several European politicians have already rejected invitations to attend the opening ceremonies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Friday that she would not be attending the opening ceremonies, while Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown are determining whether they will follow suit. These politicians understand that the decision to boycott the Games is an individual choice and they will not make their countrymen suffer for their own political agenda.

If the international community has learned anything from the unease surrounding the upcoming Olympics, it’s that they should not have rewarded China with the Games in the first place. Back in 2001, the IOC chose China as host for the 2008 Olympics because they thought the Games would encourage openness. In the future, the IOC should wait until a country commits to openness, and then reward them with the Olympics. But for now, we should let the Games begin.

Zach Einterz is a senior economics major. He still needs a job after graduation. Contact him at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.