Last week, Senator Rick Scott offered a useful and timely opinion on US participation in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games set to be held in Beijing.
Some background: Sen. Scott has been vocal in his opposition to China hosting the 2022 Games, and he has spoken out about Chinese human rights abuses, trade violations, and repression of free speech, among other concerns. Recently, he called for the Games to be moved out of China. “Under no circumstance should the global community give Communist China an international platform to whitewash its crimes, which is what will happen if they are allowed to host the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing,” the Senator wrote in a letter to President Biden.
Critically, Sen. Scott added an important stipulation to his calls for a movement of the 2022 Games: If the Games go forward, American athletes should be allowed to participate. In other words, the United States should advocate that the Games move out of Beijing, but we should allow our athletes to compete for no matter where they are held.
“Boycotts hurt athletes who have spent their lives training to represent their country on the international stage,” Senator Scott said, “This is about human rights, which we all have a responsibility to address.”
This position deserves to be highlighted and emphasized: The United States can send a message to China and advocate that the Games be moved—but also respect and dignify the years of training and difficulty that goes into competing as an Olympian. Senator Scott’s position is the only way for the United States to stand up to China without stamping out the hopes and dreams of young Americans eager to show their stuff in 2022.
His position is also vindicated by history. The last time America organized a boycott of the Olympics was in 1980 under the leadership of President Jimmy Carter. The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, and President Carter threatened to boycott the upcoming Moscow Winter Games if the Soviets didn’t leave. The result? The Americans boycotted, and the Soviets stayed in Afghanistan for almost a decade longer. The US was humiliated, and what’s worse, the Soviets fired back by sitting out the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. President Carter’s 1980 boycott was about as complete a failure as one could imagine.
Senator Scott knows this, and he knows the effect the 1980 boycott had on the 466 American athletes prevented from competing. Last year, during the fortieth anniversary, those athletes spoke out about dashed hopes and lost memories. “We were just pawns in a political game,” said one swimmer, who set a world record 10 days after the Games event in which he would have participated. His world record time was faster than the Soviet swimmer who won the Gold medal.
The United States has a responsibility to speak up about Chinese abuses of human rights and free expression, but it has an equal responsibility to its own, young, hard-in-training citizens who seek to compete internationally. Senator Scott is right to argue for both moving the Games out of China and allowing young Americans to compete regardless of where the Games are held. His position is the right solution to a difficult problem, and other political and diplomatic leaders should embrace it.