Olympic boycotts – a bad idea
They don't work. Instead, promote the Olympic truce.
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The US and the USSR boycotted each other's Los Angeles and Moscow Games in 1980 and 1984 respectively. President Jimmy Carter led 65 nations boycotting the Moscow Games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets retaliated by keeping their teams and those of 13 other East bloc states away from Los Angeles, promoting their own "Friendship Games" in that summer of 1984. Careers of many athletes suffered and cold war tensions rose as a result.Skip to next paragraph
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This year, an alternative to boycotts – reactivating the ancient Olympic Truce concept – would serve the causes of peacemakers and human rights activists everywhere. Last year's UN General Assembly session, referring to the Beijing Games, reiterated the Olympic Truce resolution taken for the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2001.
The UN's appeal for observance of the Olympic Truce in the 1990s allowed athletes from former Yugoslavia to participate in the Lillehammer, Norway, Winter Games, despite the wars raging in their regions.
The Olympic Truce concept first arose as early as the 9th century BC. The Greek city-state of Elis and two neighboring states arranged a cease-fire. Elis citizens traveled around Greece to publicize it. Athletes and their families and fans were guaranteed safe travel through hostile territory for seven days before and seven days after the Games.
Groups who urge boycotts of Beijing could instead cooperate with the UN and its members in promoting the truce concept. One way would be for China's government to invite a Tibetan delegation headed by the Dalai Lama to Beijing. China should further guarantee the safety and security of those attending the Games, including dissidents and protesters. Opposition groups, for their part, should suspend aggressive or violent tactics.
The Dalai Lama has often expressed readiness to travel from his exile in India to talk peace and Tibetan autonomy with Chinese leaders in Beijing, despite their wrathful denunciations of him.
At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when delegates from supposedly hostile North and South Korea marched together under a unification flag, Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary-General, said: "Olympic ideals are also United Nations ideals: tolerance, equality, fair play, and most of all, peace."
Not a bad formula to inspire the Beijing Games – and many future Olympiads to come.