Mitigate politics to save the Games
Even as the Summer Olympics, curtailed by COVID-19, came to an end in the scorching Tokyo summer, the Winter Olympics slated for next year in Beijing became a hot topic. On July 27, several members of the US Congress launched an inflammatory call to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics. This untimely act of political demagoguery is an insult to the Olympic tradition of bringing together all countries, including rivals, for a series of peaceful competitions.
Due to the pandemic-induced one-year delay of the Tokyo Games, the Winter Olympics will follow the Summer Olympics in short succession. Just six months apart, the Tokyo Summer Games and the Beijing Winter Games invite inevitable comparisons. Which of the two countries will have the satisfaction of hosting the most successful Olympic Games?
Japan, hampered by its own slow response to the COVID-19 pandemic, had to postpone the Tokyo Games for a year before the Liberal Democratic Party-led government clashed with popular opinion and advice from public health professionals to host the Olympics.
There may be some latent satisfaction in hosting the Tokyo Games, as reduced performance is likely better than no performance at all, but COVID-19 infection rates continue to climb inexorably, and the decision to host the Games came at the cost of banning spectators from almost all venues.
The Japanese athletes may have performed well, but Japan will lose money on the Games. The losses come not only in terms of low ratings and reduced advertising revenue, but also in tourism, boosting the economy and the ineffable but not so trivial matter of generating goodwill. At the most expensive Olympics ever, with a refurbished billion dollar stadium as its centerpiece, the world’s athletes clashed against empty stands.
China’s response to the pandemic, decried by some in the early months of 2020, now appears, in retrospect, to have been not only robust but also effective. For China, keeping the infection rate low is necessary for hosting the Winter Games, let alone making it a success. Beijing appears to be on track to do so, barring unforeseen epidemiological developments.
Where Beijing could suffer is in the political arena, as a group of right-wing politicians in the United States are currently leading the charge of boycotting the Winter Games. The apparent reason is Beijing’s policy in Tibet, Hong Kong, and other integral parts of China, but in this season of instinctively bashing China, any old reason would do. Simply put, there is a constituency in US politics that sees China as a Cold War type enemy that must be countered at every turn. In their eyes, China can do nothing right, and the United States can do nothing wrong.
Japan, which is normally quick to follow the lead of the United States in world politics, both for reasons of expediency, as evidenced by the friendly relationship between former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former President Donald Trump, and for reasons of silent coercion, as evidenced by decades of ceding to a muscular US military presence in Okinawa and other bases around Japan, has cautiously remained silent on the subject of the Games winter.
If Beijing and Tokyo had started arguing ahead of the Summer Games, the prospect of tit for tat boycotts would have arisen and ruined the Summer and Winter Olympics. Instead, Japan took the diplomatic lead, making “Team China” feel welcome, and Team China, with its hundreds of athletes and dozens of medalists, was surely one of the pillars, economically and athletically, the Tokyo Olympics.
Presumably, Japan will take the high road and participate in the Beijing Winter Games, returning the favor of China to lend credibility to the Tokyo Games. But if the United States and some other countries abstain from participating in the Winter Games, it could very well spell the end of the modern Olympics.
It is true that the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, organized every four years in alternate even years, have the gift of crossing political developments. Some countries threatened to boycott the 1936 Berlin Olympics due to frightening political headwinds. In 1980, however, the United States boycotted the Summer Games in Moscow, the Soviet Union and 14 aligned countries reciprocating and boycotting the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
For the United States, celebrating the Beijing Winter Olympics to hold China to account is an exercise in hypocrisy. The United States would not have appreciated being dismissed as an international pariah and “held accountable” for its ruthless bomb drops and the aggressive deployment of its deadly war machine over the years in countries like Vietnam. , Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Libya. and Afghanistan, to name a few foreign invasions, or what is happening on the streets of the United States.
Yet the authoritarian tenet of American foreign policy, under President Joe Biden almost as much as under Trump, continues to insist that the countries he criticizes “do what we say, not what we do.” The current rearguard actions of a few US lawmakers to boycott the Beijing Winter Games may in fact grow large enough to inflict damage or even lead to the cancellation of the Games.
Already, the main US advertisers who have registered for the Games (Intel, Coca-Cola, Proctor and Gamble, Visa, AirBnB) are being harassed for ignoring the call for a boycott launched by US Senator Tom Cotton, a opponent of Beijing.
Athletes and sports fans know better than anyone that fair competition can transcend politics, race, national tensions and human discord.
So to exist, let alone thrive in a world plagued by political tension, war and injustice, the Olympics need a break from brutal political stance. It can and should continue, but the politics must be toned down to allow the magic of bringing people from all over the world to one site for a good-humored competition.
The responsibility for keeping the Olympic Games cosmopolitan falls most heavily on the host country, but all participants must also be good sportsmen. The International Olympic Committee, criticized for its inflexible rules, has a role of mediator to play.
It is a good thing for the Olympics that Japan has sought to make the Tokyo Games a calculated spectacle of Japanese public relations. Likewise, China is expected to be a gracious host and to treat all sports delegations, visiting journalists, sports fans and other participants with total respect.
Japan may not have been an ideal host country, but even its clean-lined opening ceremony had its moments. The eerie and illuminating drone spectacle of our planet, a single dazzling floating world revolving in the blackness of the night, is as good a picture one can attach to the Games, and it is in this spirit that the Olympic Games d Beijing winter should go ahead.
The author is an American independent researcher.
Opinions do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.