Boycott of the Olympic Games, a weapon with limited effects

To analyse. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin will be able to parade on February 4 during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. In the absence of the American Joe Biden, the Chinese and Russian presidents will be all smiles in the official tribune of the Beijing National Stadium, alongside the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, and the boss of the International Olympic Committee (IOC ), Thomas Bach. On December 6, 2021, the United States announced a diplomatic boycott of the competition, due to the “Genocide and crimes against humanity in progress in Xinjiang”.

The threat was dormant. The Peng Shuai affair – named after a tennis player kept silent by Beijing after she accused a former top Chinese Communist Party leader of rape – had, a few weeks earlier, rekindled US-China tensions. Since the White House announcement, Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada – Washington’s closest allies – have joined the American offensive: neither of these countries will therefore send official representatives during of the Chinese high mass of snow and ice sports. The European Union is torn by the conflicting interests of its members and seems to be struggling to agree on a common position. For its part, Japan, which was careful to avoid qualifying its decision as a boycott, said at the end of December 2021 that no government representative would make the trip to China for the Games.

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The boycott of sports competitions is a usual weapon in the diplomatic arsenal. In 1956, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon did not take part in the Melbourne Games (Australia) to denounce the Franco-British occupation of the Suez Canal; Spain, the Netherlands and Switzerland had withdrawn from the competition in protest against the Soviet intervention in Hungary. Another example: in 1976, in Montreal, some twenty African countries refused to participate in the race for the Olympic medals. The reason ? The presence in Quebec of New Zealand rugby players, who had, by facing the Springboks shortly before, broken the international isolation of South Africa in the midst of apartheid.

Symbolic measure

But, in contemporary history, the most emblematic examples of boycott remain that of the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980 by the United States and its allies to demand the withdrawal of the USSR from Afghanistan, then that of Los Angeles in 1984, by the Soviets and twelve Communist countries in retaliation.

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