To Boycott Or Not To Boycott the Olympics?

Amid all of the controversy surrounding China’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics, all three major presidential candidates have called on President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies.

I understand a lot of the issues; China’s oppression of Tibet, its oppression of its own people, and its blind eye in regards to Sudan and the bloodshed in Darfur. The other day when I heard about the Olympic torch taking an alternate route through San Francisco to avoid the massive protests there, I fully understood.

But I find myself at a loss on whether the president should boycott or not. Okay, maybe this president it’s probably for the best, but this is Bush, you know, the guy who’s as subtle as an elephant playing heavy metal, and as diplomatic as… well… Bush (sorry, no analogy would be as humorous or illustrative as reality).

Pretending we had someone other than Bush, someone better, more competent, would boycotting still be the answer?

I ask only because it seems such a small thing to do. It seems to me like something that is not the act of a strong leader, but more like a parent who gives up. Or like someone who can’t come up with a good counter argument, so they just throw their hands up in the air and walk away.

I ask because not attending seems like a solution that I would be capable of, and I’m sorry, I expect a little more thought and ability out of the people I elect (Why on earth would I vote for someone into office when I think I would be better suited to do the job than they would be?).

Don’t get me wrong; you can’t do wrong by boycotting. It surely sends a message to China that we are not pleased. There will be impacts and repercussions; China may lose a little Olympic business, and there will be a little bit of embarrassment to be sure. But will anything that a boycott accomplishes really change China’s mind?

Does anyone out there really believe that if we say we’re boycotting unless China cleans up their act they’ll say, “Oh, you crazy Americans, you really won’t come if we don’t help out with Darfur and start treating our people with respect? Okay, you win, now come on over, grab a beer, and watch some of the crazy crap these people in the funny colored clothes can do.”

Indeed, all I can see this accomplishing is dishonoring the Chinese. Now, I’m not the biggest expert on Chinese culture, but the whole dishonor/honor thing is pretty big with them, and I’m not sure will net us the best response. I’m not saying we have to go over there and sing their praises, but I am saying that turning a cold shoulder’s not going to result in them magically doing whatever we want them to.

So, my thought is, and I welcome discussion and debate on this, isn’t this exactly the time for a President to be a diplomat and a statesman?

We look at the nature of the Olympics, athletes of all different cultures and ideals from around the globe come together in the spirit of sportsmanship. That sportsmanship is greater than men and women competing against each other in good faith, but is a testament to the better nature of humanity. For the weeks during which the Olympic torch presides over the world’s greatest athletes, the human bond that ties us all becomes greater than the boundaries and ideologies that divide us.

Like its human creators, the Olympics are not without flaw. The idealism that surrounds the event has often been usurped for rank political or ideological purposes. But it is the ideal that has persisted, not temporary corruptions of that ideal. We competed against the Soviet Union when they were our most lethal enemy, and when that union split apart, we competed against the new independent nations with an equal or greater spirit of global companionship.

It is this kind of spirit that exists within the Olympics, that magic where for a few weeks we’re all just kids playing in the same backyard, that gives me pause for thought on this. And the Olympics have always strived to show the best in all of us.

Citius, Altius, Fortius.

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

A president would be okay to walk away from the Olympics opening ceremonies, but could he or she not do better? Could he or she not use it as an opportunity to engage the Chinese government in a respectful and diplomatic way to achieve greater results?

Couldn’t we be better, look the Chinese in the eye, and under the colored rings and burning torch demand they do better themselves?

Maybe, maybe not. But it would still be something I would like to see.

(edited by DrGail)

3 Responses to “To Boycott Or Not To Boycott the Olympics?”

  1. Dynamic says:

    This inspired a pleasant day dream.

    The opening ceremonies, despite protests from Tibet and Darfur activists, proceed with great fanfare and elaborate ritual. The conspicuously absent teams – England, Canada, Switzerland, most of NATO – hearken back to the Cold War era. A defiant Chinese team proudly and enthusiastically takes to the track in their gleaming, modern uniforms. They are followed by resurgent Russia and a majority of the world’s nations.

    And then, the US flag appears. A shockingly small delegation – the captain of each US relay team, running, swimming and the rest – marching subdued but proud, the Stars and Strips streaming behind them as they, one by one, hand off the relay baton that each of them will be competing with to the next in line.

    As they reach the middle of the track, the final runner receives the baton, and as if on command, the entire team stops at attention as this last runner trots over to the audience and hands the baton up to President Barack Obama, who stands up and says, first in English and then in his native Bahasa Indonesian:

    ” People of the world… we have come together tonight to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Like all such triumphs, it is bittersweet – the sweet ecstasty of victory is tinged with the bitter flavour of the shared pain of those who made it not. ”

    “There are those here tonight who are going to achieve great things, and there is of course no shame in that. There are those here tonight who will strive for great things and fall short, and there is, likewise, no shame in the striving. And there are those who have chosen not to be here, and their decision must be respected, and warrants no shame of its own.”

    “But shame yet darkens this great day. ”

    “Yes, shame. It is a shame borne by no one nation, but rather the collective shame we bear for those who are not here – not because they have chosen not to be but because, in the grip of the oppression of their fellow man, they have no freedom to do so. This is our shame.”

    “The United States has chosen to send a team to participate in the Olympics because we feel that there is honour in striving for something better, and there is nobility in coming together for a common cause. Though we respect those who elected to boycott, we feel that there is nothing to be gained from isolation.”

    “At the same time, we know that we are priveleged to be able to participate in this time-honoured tradition, and that it represents the very best that our world has to offer. We further recognize that the greatest achievements of mankind have been achieved through co-operation, not competition, a notion our hosts today hold at the very center of their society. ”

    “We have a saying, back in the United States. You might say it’s written on the welcome mat, if you were inclined towards fancy. It goes ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!'”

    “These are not just words.”

    “It is for this reason that this year, we have done something different.” As he says this, there is a gasp from the crowd as people of all ages and nationalities race onto the field, each dressed in a sparkling, ultramodern American uniform. “This year, our team – like our nation – will be made up of people from all areas of the world, from all races, creeds and colours. We’ve invited them all to be a part of the American dream, a dream of freedom, individual liberty, human rights and human compassion. And we’ve entered only the relay and team events – none of these people will be taking part alone.”

    “Higher. Faster. Stronger.”


    “Many of the nations represented tonight have come here seeking honour. You have made the claim that you too are world leaders and powers of the first rank., just as we are. We do not dispute this.”

    “We simply ask you to prove it”

    “Lift up your lamps and light the way for those huddled masses yearning to breath free. Ignore no longer the wretched refuse of the world’s teeming shores. It is in compassion that true honour lies. It is in cooperation that true greatness is achieved.”

    “Together, we can light a torch for the whole world.”

    The rest of the ceremonies are completed in silence.

    Of course, the script gets a lot shorter with President Bush. 😆

  2. DrGail says:

    It seems to me that we have to distinguish between the more ceremonial aspects of the Olympic Games — the torch relay and the opening ceremonies, primarily — and the games themselves. The ceremonial portions are PR opportunities for the host country and therefore are, by their very nature, symbolic. Symbolic gestures, therefore (such as boycotting or protesting them) are very much appropriate.

    The choice of a venue has always been influenced by issues regarding human rights, environmental sensitivity, etc. Specifically, I believe that host cities (and countries) have been chosen in part on the basis of how the Olympics offers them an impetus to “clean up their acts” and become even better world citizens. Put another way, it has been a question of leverage — that is, which country might be most responsive to a nudge from the IOC.

    In short, China hasn’t really held up its end of the bargain. Part of its bid included a commitment to improvements in pollution control, which really haven’t happened. I was unable to find (due to time constraints) specific indications of the expectation that China become a more responsible world citizen in exchange for winning its Olympic bid. The extensive protests and calls for boycotts are a reflection of the world’s judgment that China really hasn’t come through.

    So, the equation seems to be: China can get the revenue and showcasing from hosting the games themselves, but they haven’t earned the plum PR and image-burnishing that would have come from a more sincere effort.

    Bottom line: The games themselves are for the athletes, while the ceremonies are for the host country. China simply hasn’t made enough progress to earn protest-free ceremonies.

  3. Bill Manlove says:

    I will not only Boycott the 2008 Olympic games I will never watch any Olympics again. God Bless America or should I say God Help America!!!!!!

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