No one seriously expects the U.S., or any of its allies, to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The “conversation” they’ll have probably doesn’t amount to more than window dressing, some sort of signal that they’re at least aware of China’s heinous human rights abuses, highlighted by its treatment of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. And when anyone complains when the U.S. does send its athletes in a year and a half, it’ll point to these conversations about the hard work and deliberating they did on the subject.
And this morning the U.S. State Department is already walking back a possible boycott.
It’s not that boycotting The Games, no matter how large a contingent decided to do so, would change Chinese policy in any way. That’s not really the point. It at least makes it a much more discussed issue in circles it wouldn’t normally be. And that can lead to change, though in a very slow and frustrating way. It also shows that you won’t condone such things in any fashion, which is important.
But we’ve seen this movie before. The overall emotion will be, “It’s not fair to the athletes who have trained most of their lives for this moment, and to take it away from them for ‘political’ reasons does them an injustice.” Ask the Uyghurs about injustice. Or Tibetans. Or Hong Kong residents.
The problem for the U.S. is that this won’t be the last time a totalitarian regime or despot or human rights abusers host The Games. They’re basically the only ones who can. Fuck. Beijing just did this for the 2008 Summer Games. Putin got his two-week celebration of himself that robbed the Russian people blind in 2014.
More and more cities and countries have come to the conclusion that hosting The Games not only isn’t worth it, it’s actually intensely damaging. Athens, Rio, Sochi are just a smattering of places that may not be out from under the financial calamity of hosting the Olympics in our lifetimes. So the only cities in the future will be in countries where the people don’t really get a voice, and where a government might want to demonstrate how in order they have everything in their country. Tokyo is going to host The Games this summer, and the people of Tokyo pretty much want nothing to do with it. While Milan and Paris are slated to host the next two Olympics after Beijing, then L.A. in 2028, we’ll see how many more democratic countries want the headache.
The U.S. is the biggest fish when it comes to the Olympics, and its contract with NBC the driving force for a lot of this. So perhaps the United States can force change with themselves, whether it is the IOC actually paying for something in host cities, or maybe just deciding on permanent sites for summer and winter so that no place goes through this scam ever again.
Human rights are certainly worth more than a conversation over whether they justify a boycott. They absolutely should. They absolutely won’t, because there’s too much money involved. Ask the NBA what it’s like to piss China off, and then remember that our country is run by much bigger corporations than the NBA. Maybe in some fantastical scenario the threat of lack of visitors dropping into China after a massive boycott would be enough to see China change their ways, at least for just long enough to convince people to come for The Games before going back to their ways. I wouldn’t hold my breath, seeing as how the Chinese government still vehemently denies any human rights abuses. These “conversations” feel like the half-hearted and futile t-shirts that Norway and Germany wore to protest human rights violations in World Cup host Qatar. Either way, something has to change.
But hey, if the U.S. and its allies did boycott, at least the Athletes Village is unlikely to run out of condoms.