USOPC Working to Defuse Beijing Boycott Talk

(ATR) A “steady drumbeat” from the US Capitol is a concern for US Olympic leaders.

(ATR) The chair of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee says she hears "the steady drumbeat" coming from the U.S. Congress for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

A resolution has been filed in the House of Representatives calling for a boycott over Chinese human rights policies involving the Uighur Muslims in the country’s west. So far no similar resolution has been introduced in the Senate yet, as had been the case with the previous session of Congress.

"While we would never want to minimize what is happening from a human rights perspective in China, we do not support an athlete boycott," USOPC chair Susanne Lyons said Wednesday following the latest meeting of the organization board of directors.

Around the Rings is told that the issue of a Beijing boycott is a priority for the USOPC in its dealings with the U.S. government.

Lyons is eager to prevent the USOPC from the kind of storm that blew up in 1980 ahead of the Moscow Olympics. President Jimmy Carter initiated the push for a U.S. boycott as a protest for the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the former U.S.S.R.

Hearings in Congress were part of the national debate that erupted in the U.S. in the months leading to the Moscow Olympics. Under pressure from Washington, the USOC as it was known then, voted to stay away from Moscow, along with about 60 other NOCs. The protest had no effect on the U.S.S.R., which remained in Afghanistan for years.

With the U.S. boycotting, the U.S.S.R. soared to number-one on the medals table at the 1980 Games.

"Those boycotts only hurt athletes who have trained their entire lives for this opportunity to represent their country," said Lyons Wednesday in a briefing for reporters.

"We believe this is an issue that should be addressed at a government to government level with China," she said.

Nonetheless, she said the USOPC is working to defuse sentiment in Washington, both in the Congress and the White House. President Joseph Biden has yet to make a declaration about China and the 2022 Olympics says press secretary Jen Psaki.

On a government to government level, Biden has already spoken to Chinese Premier Xi Jinpeng by telephone last month in their first contact since Biden’s inauguration. Next week U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with his counterpart from China, Wang Yi. The meeting in Anchorage, Alaska is meant to cover a range of issues says Psaki.

Last week former secretary of state Mike Pompeo urged Biden to go for a boycott of the Olympics, a position Pompeo had taken while he was secretary of state. But his then boss, President Donald Trump failed to mention an Olympic boycott while in office, despite Trump’s penchant to attack China on other matters.

The USOPC is said to be mindful of the possibility that the ex-president could inflame the boycott debate in congress with the sizeable coterie of Republican members of the House and Senate loyal to Trump. The USOPC is said to be exploring ways to keep the former president out of the boycott chatter with assistance from political leaders simpatico with Trump.

So far the most prominent member of Congress to speak out against a boycott is Trump adversary Mitt Romney. The U.S. Senator from Utah and former head of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics says a boycott only hurts athletes.

Athletes may also be a part of the strategy the USOPC pursues in its efforts to defuse the boycott threat, with Trump and Congress.

"We need to understand what the impact was in 1980 when we boycotted," she said. "What was meant to be accomplished by that boycott was not accomplished. In fact all that happened was that the hopes and dreams of a large number of athletes never came to fruition," says Lyons.

"That's what we're encouraging and speaking with members of Congress about."

Reported by Ed Hula.