At least one major head of state will be attending the Winter Olympics in Beijing even if a proposed diplomatic boycott over human rights issues does come to fruition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation to the Games from Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to TASS.
Being invited by the head of state of the host country is the only way Putin can attend the Games. As part of the sanctions imposed on Russia for its state-sponsored doping at Sochi 2014 and subsequent cover-ups, Russian government officials were banned from Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022.
Russian athletes, as they did in Tokyo, will be competing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in Beijing.
How many other heads of state join Putin in Beijing is anyone’s guess. There have been calls from some politicians in the West that no official diplomatic delegations should be going to China due to the government’s treatment of Uyghurs in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The U.S. is among several countries who have accused China of genocide. China denies any human rights abuses.
A diplomatic boycott is supported by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among others. U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, who was president of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, has called for both a diplomatic and economic boycott of Beijing, with no fans traveling to watch the Games except for the families of the athletes and coaches.
The pandemic may make an economic boycott a moot point, should the Chinese government follow the lead of Japan and decide against any spectators in the stands.
Other politicians are in favor of a boycott by athletes, but Romney says that such an action has proven ineffective in the past and only punishes the athletes. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has been working for months to convince politicians to avoid repeating Moscow 1980, when the United States and about 60 other NOCs did not send teams to the Summer Games over the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union.