Athletes Not Pawns in China Controversy

(ATR) The head of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee pushes back on Beijing boycott…

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The United States team walks in the Parade of Athletes during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday. The team has more athletes than any nation at the Games and it's the most diverse of any U.S. winter squad, in terms of both race and gender. There are 108 women on the team, more than any other U.S. Winter Olympics team in the past.
The United States team walks in the Parade of Athletes during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday. The team has more athletes than any nation at the Games and it's the most diverse of any U.S. winter squad, in terms of both race and gender. There are 108 women on the team, more than any other U.S. Winter Olympics team in the past.

(ATR) The chair of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee says diplomats, not Olympians, should be handling U.S. foreign policy issues like human rights in China.

"We do not believe that Team USA's young athletes should be used as political pawns," said Susanne Lyons during a press briefing Wednesday. Her comments follow remarks a day earlier from a U.S. State Department spokesman that there may be discussions among diplomats about a Beijing Olympic boycott.

Lyons noted that the State Department has since clarified its position and denies it meant to suggest a boycott strategy with allies was in the works.

"I think we will continue to see a lot of discussion on the topic of boycotts and I wanted to just point out again what we have said very consistently. We at the USOPC oppose athlete boycotts because they have been shown to negatively impact athletes, while not effectively addressing global issues in the past," Lyons said.

She also noted that talk of boycotting the Olympics also affects sponsors.

"They also placehonestly unfair pressure on the sponsors who provide for the athlete programs over the long term, not just for one specific set of Games," Lyons said.

"For our athletes, their only dream is to represent the USA and what we stand for on the international field of play. So we certainly do not want in any way to minimize the serious human rights issues that are happening in China.

"But the US has many tools to constructively respond to these concerns which we believe should be handled by government officials including the Department of State and the team of ambassadors, trade negotiators and other diplomats," said Lyons.

She spoke with other members of the USOPC leadership in a virtual press briefing that launched a three-day media summit with Team USA athletes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. More than 100 athletes in every sport the US will enter in Tokyo are taking part. The meeting in the past has always been conducted in person, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced it to go virtual. Originally planned for last March, the media summit was one of the first Olympic-related events to meet a demise in the early weeks of the pandemic.

Reported by Ed Hula.