For many U.S. athletes, an Olympics boycott is out
Olympic hopefuls gathered in Chicago this week say that boycotts do not work. Athletes who were unable to compete in 1980 concur.
(Page 2 of 2)
President Bush recently called this tactic a "cop-out," saying he plans to attend. In a normal Olympics, however, declining an invitation to the opening ceremonies would hardly be a matter of comment. If Mr. Bush goes to Beijing, he would be the first US president to attend an opening ceremonies outside the US.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But Beijing Olympic officials have sought to make their Games superlative in every sense – and bringing an unprecedented retinue of foreign leaders to the opening ceremonies is a part of that design.
So, too, is the torch relay – the longest in history, covering 85,000 miles and every continent except Antarctica. With dissidents scared to speak out in China, protesters abroad have used the torch relay as a candle for their causes – from Darfur to Tibet.
And that is fine, say most athletes. "I do think it is a good thing that China is hosting the Olympics, because none of these things would have come to light otherwise," says cyclist Sarah Hammer. "I don't think the protests were against what the Olympics are, they just used the Olympics as a platform."
Yet she and other Olympic hopefuls draw the line at violence or wholesale disruptions of Olympic events – such as when protesters in London and Paris broke through a police cordon and extinguished the Olympic flame.
The reaction to this event hints at a potential cultural distinction between American and European athletes, with Europeans seemingly more willing to bring the spirit of protest into the venues.
French pole-vaulter Romain Mesnil is lobbying the International Olympic Committee to allow him to wear a badge that says "For a better world" – a veiled protest against China's human rights record. German judo athlete Yvonne Boenisch said Tuesday that she will boycott the opening ceremony; German fencer Imke Duplitzer and Norwegian cyclist Thor Hushovd have suggested they might as well.
The vast majority of athletes in Chicago this week, however, expressed no such appetite. Even Ben Wildman-Tobriner, a swimmer who has applied for a Rhodes scholarship and grew up in the Haight district of San Francisco – ground zero for the activist 1960s – disagrees with any form of protest. He has opinions, he says, but "to me, this isn't the time to express them."
Adds wrestler Lindsey Durlacher: "I don't really like some of the policies of the Chinese government, but I'm a wrestler, I try not to get involved in politics. I need a medal first, then I'll worry about politics later."
That is the best attitude, says Glenn Mills, a member of the 1980 Olympic swim team, which was still named despite the boycott. Many of the athletes have been working toward these Games since before they were awarded to Beijing, he adds: "Now, it just so happens that they're in the middle of it."
For Mr. Mills, the 1980 Games turned out to be his only chance. Four years later, he missed qualifying for the Olympic team by 0.5 seconds.
Athletes and analysts say the moral for today is that a boycott of the Games would not bring Chinese reforms – and might accomplish the opposite, worsening ties with the West. Says Mr. Wallechinsky: "Better to go and give them a view of the outside world."