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What a US diplomatic boycott against the Beijing Olympics will entail

The Beijing 2022 logo is written in black letters with five multicolored Olympic rings underneath.
Reuters/Thomas Peter
This will be the first US Olympic boycott since 1980.
  • Courtney Vinopal
By Courtney Vinopal

Breaking news reporter

Published Last updated

The White House announced today (Dec. 6) the US will stage a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics in February in response to alleged human rights abuses by the country, including the repression and genocide of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representatives to the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic games and will instead support athletes from the US.

“We will be behind them 100 percent as we cheer them on from home,” Psaki said in a statement. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games.” The US Olympic boycott, said to be in the works for a number of weeks now, is the first to take place since 1980.

Why the US is boycotting Beijing this Olympics

Beijing’s hosting of the 2022 winter Olympics has been the subject of controversy since China first won the bid in 2015. That year, Tibetan activists lobbied the International Olympic Committee in the hopes that Beijing would be denied the opportunity to host the games given their worsening human rights record.

Since then more concerning details about the Chinese Communist Party’s behavior, including officials’ efforts to forcibly detain hundreds of thousands of Uyghur muslims in “re-education” camps serving as propaganda centers, have emerged. A sweeping national security law passed in Hong Kong last year led to the detainment of dozens of activists, politicians, and journalists, and in the last few weeks China has come under scrutiny for its alleged silencing of the tennis star Peng Shuai. Shuai wasn’t heard from for several weeks after accusing a former top Communist Party official of sexual assault, prompting the Women’s Tennis Association to pull all its tournaments from China.

Governments have come under pressure to boycott Beijing as reports of human rights abuses in China have multiplied. Biden first said his administration was considering a boycott over these alleged human rights abuses on Nov. 18. Other countries, including the UK and Australia, are reportedly considering boycotts as well.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dismissed reports of the US boycott today, saying, “US politicians keep hyping a ‘diplomatic boycott’ without even being invited to the Games. This wishful thinking and pure grandstanding is aimed at political manipulation.”

How will a diplomatic boycott affect the games?

The diplomatic boycott should not significantly change how the US competes in the upcoming winter games, as athletes are still allowed to participate. The last time the US boycotted the Olympics in 1980 in Moscow over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, more than 60 nations participated and athletes were barred from competing.

While this boycott is unlikely to be as consequential as the one that occurred in 1980, the US stance poses a quandary for global sponsors with a presence at the Olympics. Human rights advocates are also pushing for corporate sponsors to pull out of the games, but so far major brands like Coca Cola and P&G have stopped short of doing so.

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