The possibility of a boycott has arisen in other countries, such as Canada and Australia. Dozens of human rights organizations, many of them representing groups like Tibetans, also have called for a boycott. But institutions that handle Olympics issues, such as the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, have reportedly shown no interest.
China has reacted to calls for a boycott with derision and threats, while insisting it is not mistreating the Uighurs or other groups highlighted by human rights activists. State-backed media isn’t backing down, either. “If any country is encouraged by extremist forces to take concrete actions to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, China will definitely retaliate fiercely. China certainly has the resources and means to do that,” argued an editorial in the Global Times.
In 1980, when the Summer Games were hosted by Moscow, Carter insisted on a boycott in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Some 65 countries joined the boycott, while 80 went ahead and participated.
U.S. allies Germany, Canada and Israel boycotted the event, but other allies, like Britain and Australia, sent athletes to compete. Four years later, the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Today, many view the 1980 boycott as largely unsuccessful. It was, after all, nearly another decade before the Soviet Union left Afghanistan. And many hopeful American athletes lost their shot at Olympic glory despite years of training.
Some former Trump administration officials favor participating in the 2022 Games as a platform to air concerns, perhaps in creative ways. Biden could, for instance, include Uighur-Americans as part of the official U.S. delegation. American athletes also could be encouraged to speak out against China’s oppressive policies.
“Staying in the Olympics can actually be a powerful vehicle to shine a light on their abuses, if we have the will,” Alex Gray, a Trump National Security Council official and China specialist now with the right-leaning American Foreign Policy Council, told POLITICO. “A boycott could backfire, but using the Games to highlight Xinjiang, Tibet, Christians, and more will be more effective as the whole world is watching.”