China, or rather the Chinese government, takes a lot of reprehensible actions. From sweat shops to repression of religious freedoms, there is no doubt that human rights are not guaranteed to the people of China. Nearly a century of violent struggle to maintain hegemony over Tibet certainly serves as an example of this. Given this context, many activists have begun calling for a boycott of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. Though the EU recently voted against participating in a boycott, the protests against this summer’s games are still gaining followers. Before all of you protest hungry hippies go join the movement, think about the pointlessness of a boycott. There is nothing noble or beneficial about protesting the Olympics.
Obviously, as a freedom-loving American, I disagree with China’s lack of human rights. In fact, a lot of effort goes into each mall trip to ensure that I don’t purchase clothing made in China. Wage labor laws are not strictly enforced, and even when they are, they don’t benefit the workers enough. Conditions in many factories are appalling, and reminiscent of the 1830s Lowell Textile Mills. But that isn’t going to change if the USA sits out of the Beijing Olympics.
Sports should be apolitical! The whole vision of the Olympic Games is to promote international cooperation and to unite the human race and celebrate great achievement in athletics. Just because the Olympics are on the world stage doesn’t make it a venue for countries and organizations to voice their grievances. There are other channels for that, (cough, cough, the UN).
In 1980, the United States and much of the Western world united to protest the summer games in Moscow in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. That didn’t make the USSR pull out. It only aggregated the already adverse relations between the US and Soviet Union.
If the US, or a large group of nations, were to boycott the 2008 Olympics it would have no effect. Many nations have already publicly condemned China for abusing human rights, but it has not forced change. Neither will an Olympic boycott; it has no bite. Yes, it draws attention on the world scale, but it doesn’t mandate compliance. China won’t suffer if the US doesn’t compete, it won’t motivate them to change policy because it doesn’t offer any economic or military incentive. China is not going to recognize Tibet as a sovereign nation because a bunch of sprinters pull out of the hundred meter dash.
It might, however, hurt the US. We’re not exactly loved around the world right now, and another action that shows we don’t want to cooperate and interact with the other nations of the world isn’t going to restore favor toward America.
Furthermore, it isn’t fair to the athletes. How many kids have dreamt about winning a Gold Medal? Olympic athletes are the best of the best, and they’re that way because of years of training, and working hard to achieve Olympic goals. Also, with the level of competition today, few athletes can stick around long enough to compete in multiple Olympics, so for many athletes Beijing maybe their only opportunity. It isn’t fair to deny them their chance to compete because of political aims that have no bearing on their sport. It isn’t reasonable to negate all their efforts over the last several years because the government of the host nation employs harsh polices.
By sending our athletes, we give them a chance to perform, celebrate amazing human achievement and engage with athletes from all over the world. Perhaps they can have interesting dialogue about the circumstances in China or around the world. But let’s not charge the competitors with the job of exporting American values while at the Olympics, that’s not what these games are about. For two weeks let’s put political differences aside and break down the barriers between nations in the true Olympic spirit. If in the course of that we can restore some of the prestige and honor that used to be associated with the USA, then that will go much further toward aiding our ability to defend human rights worldwide than sitting on the sidelines condemning the nations that decide to participate. Everyone gets so outraged when Hollywood stars use the Oscars for political purposes, so why should we allow it to happen in sports? Take the politics out of the Olympics, and let make a showing of good will amongst nations by sending teams from around the world to participate together in Beijing.