Monday, April 07, 2008

Olympic Boycotts

As a former track and field athlete, I can't help but comment on the commotion surrounding the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. China is coming under severe criticism for its crackdown in Tibet, as well as its cooperation with the government of Sudan, which is accused of perpetrating genocide in Darfur. The most recent developments involve protesters in France accosting a wheelchair bound athlete who was carrying the torch.

Like it or not, the Olympic Games have long been politicized. President Jimmy Carter made the Olympics a political issue for Americans when he kept our team out of the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Carter's boycott was meant to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. The Russians eventually vacated Afghanistan, but not because of the boycott. Ironically, the U.S. military now finds itself mired in that very country.

As you might imagine, the Russians were not pleased with the U.S. led boycott. They felt America was trying to embarrass them. Therefore, it came as no surprise when they retaliated by boycotting the very next Olympic games, which conveniently were held in Los Angeles.

I was never an Olympic caliber runner, yet I had the opportunity to train with runners who were. In fact, one of my former track coaches was a member of the 1980 team. As you can imagine, he was not happy to see all his training go for naught. After making the Olympic team, all he got was a trip to the White House and a handshake from the man who kept him from competing in Moscow.

I am not saying that China's policies should not be protested. Indeed, they should be vigorously protested. However, an Olympic boycott is not going to do much good. It certainly is not going to convince China's leaders to change their ways. On the contrary, a boycott will probably make them close ranks and become even more belligerent than they already are. Those who are really serious about delivering a strong message to China should seek other ways. Boycotting Chinese made goods, for example, would be more effective than boycotting the Olympics. But are consumers willing to pay higher prices for goods manufactured elsewhere?