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Matters of Opinion: Should the United States Boycott the Beijing Olympics?


Published Jul 1, 2008 8:00 AM

Illustration by Charles Hess, chess design

The controversy over China's hosting of the 29th Olympiad has spurred calls for an American boycott of the Summer Games. Many acknowledge the factors behind the protests, but most don't think it's a good idea.

I took a year out of graduate school to train for the 1980 Olympics, so that boycott was horrible for me. After swimming for Canada in '72 and '76, I thought I had a better chance at the medal stand. I did make the replacement, or 'fake,' 1980 Canadian Olympic swim team. But I will never get '80 back. It was a huge sacrifice for us athletes but an easy sacrifice for President Carter. I certainly agree with what has been going on against the Olympic Torch as it crossed the globe. However, we are in a very difficult position with that government and the people. The Chinese are hugely nationalistic and they are standing behind the dictators. All of this will most likely not have the desired effect we want. It could be the opposite, in fact. Just look at the Chinese who live in the U.S. and in other countries. They are siding with the dictatorial regime. So let the Olympians go, and go to the opening and closing ceremonies, but everyone wears a Tibetan flag. Every podium, every walk and at every competition. Of course, if we really want to get their attention, don't take it out on the athletes but impose a tariff or short-term ban on all products being shipped across the Pacific.

Clay Evans '79
Head Coach and Director
Southern California Aquatics
Masters Swimming Club

No, because such action would be unethical. It would constitute theft from the athletes, it would be pointless and such action lacks integrity. It would be unethical because the athletes are not agents of the United States government, as they have pursued their goals in the private sector with no federal funding. It would constitute theft as it is taking from the athletes something for which there is no compensation. Keeping the athletes away from the Olympic Games has never accomplished anything more than hurting the athletes. Not one scintilla of change has occurred when athletes have been kept from the Olympic Games. Finally, there is no integrity when a group of people who have had no interest in the goals and dreams of the affected group decides that it is OK for the affected group to suffer such harm.

Anita L. DeFrantz
LA84 Foundation

I do not think that the United States should boycott the Olympic Games. I see the turmoil in China and we are all concerned with the human-rights issues there, but we must remember that we have some of our own here. We cannot turn our backs on others and expect to find solutions to world problems that affect us all. My experience as an Olympic athlete broadened my world view and I believe that my interaction with athletes from all over the world gave them a different view of what America was like. We learned that we were more alike than different and that we could compete fiercely in an open and respectful manner and cheer for each other.

Walt Hazzard '78
Former Head Coach
UCLA Men's Basketball
Member, UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame

As a SECOND-generation Chinese American, I think I can speak for at least some Chinese Americans that despite the political turmoil, there is a part of us that is proud and excited to see the Olympics in China for the first time. I have, however, been torn about this topic. I am adamantly against China's support for the Sudanese government, ties with the militia in Burma, and the recent activity in Tibet, and I am aware of and angered by the considerable human-rights violations inflicted on their own people. But ultimately, I don't think the U.S. should boycott the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. These are political issues that should be dealt with off the field. I do believe that opening up China by putting it on the world stage this summer will help the international community become more aware and critical of the complex issues of this country. I understand the argument that it is important to do everything we can to preserve human rights, peace and dignity; I just don't think boycotting the Olympic Games is the way to do it. This is one of the few events where athletes and people around the world can come together and compete, interact and share a commonality. The biggest losers in this political act of solidarity, if the U.S. decides to boycott, would probably be the athletes, many who have trained their whole lives for this moment. If giving up the chance for a medal would obliterate human-rights violations in China, or open up the doors of aid to Burma, I think any athlete would gladly give it up. If only it were that simple. Is it right to treat athletes as pawns in a game of chess, even if it is for the good of mankind? I could not think of a good answer. But what I do know is that they are athletes, and athletes play sports.

Aileen Chui '03
Safeway Pharmacist

I am reminded of George Santayana's famous aphorism: 'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' Boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics, as well as similar protests going back to the 1908 London games, had practically no immediate or long-term impact on domestic and foreign policies. I would not expect a symbolic boycott of the two weeks of the Beijing Olympics to be any different, and for the major issues of concern to be resolved. Let's look at the big picture beyond August 2008. U.S.-China relations will remain one of the most compelling and complex bilateral relationships for this country and for the world in the 21st century.

Don T. Nakanishi
Director and Professor
UCLA Asian American Studies Center

It is disappointing that the issues surrounding the Beijing Olympics are boiled down to a question that is not really addressing some of the more basic questions about what is happening in China today. The question "to boycott or not to boycott" only succeeds in making people see an insult to their nation and react to it. It is not a question that will make a difference to the growing gap between rich cities and poor villages, or encourage people to defend their right to express their opinions or to be free to practice their religion as they see fit.

Nick Menzies
Assistant Director
UCLA Asia Institute