Biden mulls Beijing Olympics boycott under Conservative pressure

The political squabble over a proposed voting law in Georgia's southern state has morphed into a dispute over whether the United States should boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

Although in a recent statement issued by the Japanese top government spokesman, Katsunobu Kato Wednesday denied holding talks with the US over a possible Olympics ban, Reuters reported.  

On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price reported that the US would negotiate with allies whether to boycott the games in order to condemn Beijing's suppression of minorities and major human rights violations.

Shortly after conservative Republicans requested that President Joe Biden mull the United States' involvement in the games, the Biden administration indicated its readiness to consider such a move.

"A coordinated approach will be not only in our interest but also in the interest of our allies and partners," he told reporters at a daily briefing. But he stressed that no final decision has been reached. 

Republican lawmakers were irritated by Biden's support for a rally against the Georgia bill, as well as Major League Baseball's decision to relocate the All-Star Game from Atlanta, and believed the administration was hypocritical by not boycotting the Olympics, Voice of America reported. 

Activists around the world have called on countries to boycott the Beijing Games in order to condemn the country's domestic policies, which include what the US State Department has described as "genocide" against Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province and a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Though there has been some speculation about the likelihood of the United States boycotting or restricting attendance in the Winter Olympics, the topic hasn't received much attention until now.

There seems to be a growing push to change that after Biden said last week in an interview with ESPN that he will support Major League Baseball's decision to relocate the annual All-Star Game out of Georgia in response to the state's current election law.

Voter suppression claims 

Following unexpected Democratic wins in the general election and two Senate runoff elections, the latter of which gave Democrats full control of Congress, Georgia's overwhelmingly Republican legislature passed a slew of voting-related legislation.

Although there is controversy over how rigorous the rules are, the general opinion is that some aspects of the legislation will make it more difficult to vote in the state's urban areas, which are culturally diverse and lean Democratic, while others will improve access in rural and largely white areas, which lean Republican.

The effect of the legislation on minority voters sparked widespread outrage, which was fueled in part by highly recognizable professional athletes. So, when Biden sat down for the ESPN interview last week, he was asked about what was then just a chance that Major League Baseball would switch the All-Star Game.

I agree today's professional athletes are behaving exceptionally professionally, Biden said. "I wholeheartedly support them doing so."

When the league revealed two days later that the All-Star Game would be relocated from Atlanta to Denver, Colorado, the political right responded furiously. Among the concerns of "cancel culture" and "wokeness," a number of political pundits and elected officials banded together to insist that Biden defend the United States' inclusion in the Olympics in terms of China's treatment of its own citizens.

"When Joe Biden decides to boycott the Olympics in China, where the Communist Chinese regime is committing genocide, then he can weigh in on Georgia," Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee wrote on Twitter. 

"We can't wait to see what the U.S. President is going to say about China's voting rules," The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote. "There are no lines at polling places in the Middle Kingdom because there are no polling places, no absentee ballot controversies because there are no ballots. ... Perhaps Mr. Biden can compare the voting rules in Georgia to those in the re-education camps in Xinjiang province." 

The Journal's editors say they do not support a boycott, even as they demand Biden explain why he isn't calling for one. 

Backing for boycott

However, conservative lawmakers have been vocal in their resistance to complete US inclusion in the Beijing Games for many years.

Recommendations have ranged from a full-fledged boycott to a more selective "diplomatic boycott" in which a junior member of the Biden administration will lead the US delegation to the games rather than the president or vice president.

Last month, Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who served as president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, called for a joint economic and diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Games.

In a New York Times op-ed, he wrote, "Let us demonstrate our repudiation of China's abuses in a way that will hurt the Chinese Communist Party rather than our American athletes: reduce China's revenues, shut down their propaganda, and expose their abuses." 

Jules Boykoff, a political science professor at Pacific University and the author of four books on Olympic politics, said, much of the reasons for boycotting or relocating the games originated in Republican circles.

(Florida Senator) Marco Rubio, for example, has been on top of it for quite some time, as has (New Jersey Congressman) Christopher Smith.

According to Boykoff, there has been some Democratic funding as well.

"Here in the United States, China has become sort of an all-purpose, bipartisan political punching bag. And so, Democrats also have been speaking out a lot about China in general, and then more recently about this idea of the possibility of boycotting the Olympics. So, there's bipartisan support for considering the possibility." 

Full boycott unlikely 

Victor A. Matheson, a professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Boston who studies the economics of sports, said that historically, Olympic boycotts have been very unpopular within the country doing the boycotting because "athletes lose the opportunity to compete, and in many sports, this is your only opportunity to monetize your perhaps decades of work."

He added, "I would be very surprised if we boycotted. It would be, I think, very politically difficult for Biden, mainly because so many Americans, their hearts really do go out to the athletes themselves, who would miss this opportunity." 

However, the fact that the dialogue is taking place may be an indication that in the future, human rights violations may become a significant concern as multinational organizations negotiate bids to host major events.

Boykoff claims Major League Baseball's activities in Georgia and calls to boycott the Beijing Olympics are part of a broader pattern.

Although the complexities of delaying the Winter Olympics are orders of magnitude greater than those of shifting a single baseball game, he sees them as part of a "larger zeitgeist."

With Voice of America inputs. 

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