Articles on #Beijing2022 and the boycott question: “The Nazis used us during the 1936 Olympics. We cannot fall for the same propaganda tactics in China next year;” “Kelly: Washington’s diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics is worse than meaningless;” “53% of Canadians would not send diplomats to 2022 Olympic Games; two-in-five would keep athletes home”

Starting with the obvious parallel:

In a recent telephone interview with Fox News, former President Donald Trump said he is opposed to a proposed boycott of the 2022 Olympics in China because it would “hurt the athletes.”

President Joe Biden and others have raised the idea of a potential boycott of the 2022 games to protest the Chinese government’s ongoing persecution of its Muslim Uyghur citizens and other human rights abuses, such as the oppression of Tibetans and the trampling of civil liberties in Hong Kong.

America has been through this debate before — in 1936, and again in 1980. The very different outcomes of those two earlier debates offer some useful lessons for our current controversy.

The Chinese regime is engaged in “ongoing genocide” against the Uyghurs, according to the State Department. A recent report by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum found that “the Chinese government’s attacks on the Uyghur community are alarming in scale and severity” and constitute “crimes against humanity,” including “forced sterilization, sexual violence, enslavement, torture, forcible transfer, persecution, and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty.”

From the Chinese perspective, the Olympic Games represent a prime public relations opportunity. They make the host country seem like an accepted part of the civilized international community.

Adolf Hitler saw the 1936 Berlin Olympics the same way. Many Americans today remember the Berlin Olympics as a victory for the good guys, because African American track star Jesse Owens won four gold medals, an implicit challenge to Hitler’s claims of “Aryan” racial superiority.

But in reality, The Games were a triumph for the Nazis in the way that mattered most — improving the Hitler regime’s image abroad.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had ample warning that the Nazis intended to use the games for propaganda purposes. The U.S. ambassador in Germany, William Dodd, reported to Washington that the Nazis intended to use the Olympics “to rehabilitate and enhance the reputation of the ‘New Germany.’”

Foreigners will “have only the usual tourist contacts,” he wrote, and are likely to come away doubting the veracity of “the Jewish persecution which they have previously read in their home papers,” he predicted. The 2,000 translators hired by the Hitler government were also being trained at “parrying embarrassing questions and insinuating praise of National Socialism in their small talk,” Dodd wrote.

Dodd’s warnings went unheeded; the Roosevelt administration rejected the boycott as undue interference in American-German relations

But he was right: The New York Times praised the German government for its “flawless hospitality.” A Los Angeles Times correspondent wrote that “Zeus, in his golden days, never witnessed a show as grand as this.” An editorial in that newspaper even predicted that the “spirit of the Olympiads” would “save the world from another purge of blood.”

Even President Roosevelt was taken in — or perhaps he was looking for a way to justify America’s participation. Meeting with American Jewish Congress leader Rabbi Stephen S. Wise shortly after the games, the president told Wise he had learned from two tourists who had attended the Olympics “that the synagogues are crowded and apparently there is nothing very wrong in the situation [of Germany’s Jews] at present.”

Rabbi Wise wrote later that he was horrified by FDR’s comment. Wise tried to “explain to him how grave conditions were….[I] told him of some recent happenings in Germany….Cited other examples of the ruthless and continuing oppression of the Jews. He listened carefully; but I could see that the tourists (whoever they were, the Lord bless them not) had made an impression upon him.”

In 1980, the U.S. government made a different calculation: the Carter administration boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics as a protest against the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. In his interview, Trump claimed that this boycott “didn’t work.”

The Trump argument, apparently, is that since the boycott did not bring about a Soviet withdrawal, it was a failure. But that view misunderstands the purpose of the 1980 boycott.

President Carter obviously didn’t expect that his gesture alone would convince the Soviets to leave Afghanistan; it was a symbolic protest. A boycott of the Chinese games likewise would be symbolic.

But symbols are important. Such foreign policy gestures help shape international opinion and establish standards for how governments respond to crises around the world.

If the Biden administration does not undertake a substantial symbolic protest, such as a boycott, it would send a message to China’s leaders that their brutal human rights abuses are of no concern to the United States. That is a dangerous message to send.

The U.S. government looked away during the Holocaust, not to mention more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur. America’s response to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and mass atrocities in Syria was also too little, too late. It’s time for a new kind of U.S. response.

Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust.


Cathal Kelly of the Globe calls out the hypocrisy and weakness of “diplomatic boycotts:”

Let’s try to imagine how a diplomatic boycott might work in your own life.

You told your neighbour that you’d go over to her house for her annual New Year’s Eve party. Then you found out that she runs a dog-fighting ring or some similarly heinous activity on her property.

You are so morally repulsed that skipping the party isn’t enough. You feel the need to get on the neighbourhood group chat and announce you’ve come to a difficult decision. After a lot of soul searching, you’ve determined that no decent person should be seen to support such a person and their party. With that in mind, you will not be attending this year. Instead, you will stay home rubbing your rosary beads. You’re not going to go so far as to call anyone else who would attend such a party lower than a serpent’s belly, but it’s implied.

Also, in unrelated news, your kids will be going to the party. They’ve been looking forward to it all year and you can’t bring yourself to let them down.

Yes, there may be dog fighting and assorted other violence going on while they are in the house. Maybe they’ll be able to hear whimpering from the garage. But you don’t want to be the ogre who ruined everyone’s night out.

You heard there’s going to be a raffle at the party. What if your kids win a bunch of stuff and bring it home? Well, what can you do? You can’t stop them from winning. As much as it pains you, you’ll have to enjoy the spoils with them.

In summation, this party is wrong and you are against it.

This isn’t exactly what Washington has done in announcing an ersatz boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics. What it has come up with makes less sense than that.

America’s long-rumoured halfway measure – the diplomatic boycott – was officially announced on Monday. It doesn’t amount to much. It’s a more impressive sounding way of saying you are eliminating Olympic junkets. Now all the sad, second-rate pols from North Dakota and Maine won’t get flown private to Beijing so they can take a bunch of ego shots with Auston Matthews.

In the announcement, America’s rationales for taking this action were cast by White House spokesperson Jen Psaki in Second World War terms: “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.” It is difficult to imagine more serious charges.

Yet elsewhere in the same remarks, Psaki sounded the executive air horn on behalf of her boss: “We will be behind [America’s Olympic athletes] 100 per cent as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games.”

That. What you did right there. That is fanfare. Fanfare’s what you call it when you root publicly for athletes. Eliminating the fanfare would mean saying nothing at all.

Fanfare is what this is about, though not the usual sort. We are speaking of political fanfare – controlling and redirecting the sporting kind so that it lands on the right politicians.

This is a leadership looking to be congratulated for doing the right thing, while getting to do what they self-evidently believe to be the wrong thing.

Take earlier comments about the proposed boycott from Robert Menendez, the senator who chairs the foreign relations committee. He called it “a necessary step to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to human rights in the face of the Chinese government’s unconscionable abuses.”

I’m sure the people suffering those abuses can discern the difference between American athletes holding up the Stars and Stripes on Beijing podiums and the American VIPs who will no longer be whooping it up in the stands behind them. Perhaps “unwavering” means something different in Menendez’s district.

You can’t be said to be taking a stand unless it involves some sort of sacrifice. What has America given up here? Nothing. Less than nothing. This move saves them on airfare.

This isn’t moral leadership. It’s outrage mitigation. Washington needs to be seen doing something, but nothing so substantive that it might interfere with everyone’s fun times. Unable to boycott and just as unable to not boycott, America has chosen a boycott that isn’t a boycott. Except it has called it a boycott. Cool trick.

Playing silly buggers with language makes it possible for everyone to oppose China as party host, while still enjoying the jingoistic boost that comes from attending China’s party.

Had America said nothing about a boycott and quietly ordered officials to stay home, its position would at least be logically consistent. That would have allowed them to give the athletes, broadcasters, corporate sponsors and voters/fans what they want, without confronting the implications of what that means. It wouldn’t be very honourable, but would at least make some sense.

Putting a name to America’s semi-absence reveals it as a hypocrite. What else would you call accusing someone of mass murder, congratulating yourself on your own bold truth-telling and then helping yourself to their hospitality?

Now we’ll see what America’s allies do, and what China does in turn. Beijing has already promised “firm countermeasures.”

Would it be possible for an Olympic host to pull out of a Games a few weeks before they start? The idea would not have even occurred to me a couple of weeks ago, but it’s beginning to feel like a lot of impossible scenarios are now possible.

For those who are still Beijing or Bust, there is good news. Despite all the hot talk, we are still in the posturing stage. No one has yet done anything to put the Games in doubt.

For those who had hoped for a moral stand on this file, there is no news at all. Just more of the same nonsense meant to obscure the fact that no one wants to take any position that might force them to tell the kids they can’t go to the globe’s most lavish and beloved circus.


Lastly, a useful Angus Reid survey showing that 40 percent, higher than I expected, support a full boycott (athletes) compared to 53 percent the “virtue signalling” diplomatic boycott:

Not since the 1980 Games in Moscow has Canada declined to send athletes – or officials – to the Olympics.

But as the U.S. announces a diplomatic boycott of next February’s Winter Games in Beijing – other Western nations are being asked their intentions.

While the Canadian government contemplates who – if anyone – it will send to the Olympics, a new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds just over half of Canadians (53%) supportive of their country taking the same measure as the U.S., denying any diplomatic presence in Beijing.

Two-in-five would go further, keeping athletes home from China as a protest against human rights abuses in the host country.

Overall, four-in-five (78%) support some sort of boycott. Despite this sentiment, the vast majority are resigned to the fact that Canadian protest will have little impact on China’s domestic policy. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say it is “unrealistic” to expect actions taken by this country will change China’s behaviour.

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More Key Findings:

  • Favourability towards China has increased since Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were released from prison and returned to Canada, but it is the minority view. One-in-six (16%) Canadians say they hold favourable views of the country.
  • Half (48%) of Canadians who view China positively say there should be no boycott of the Games; one-in-five (17%) of those who view the country negatively say the same.
  • Men between the ages of 18 and 34 are the most supportive of officials and fans staying home at two-thirds (63%) and half (47%) respectively.


Kelly: Peng incident shows how we’re all compromised when it comes to the Beijing Olympics

Indeed. And sad:

With less than three months to go until the start of the Beijing Olympics, China seems determined to make everyone involved cross a moral Rubicon to get there.

The latest kerfuffle involves Chinese tennis pro Peng Shuai. A couple of weeks ago, Peng accused China’s former vice-premier – one of the half-dozen most powerful people in the country – of sexual assault.

The accusation was detailed and unambiguous. It was levelled via a verified social-media account. That account went dark almost immediately, and there were no follow-up comments. Everyone in tennis rushed in to support her. Pretty quickly, as will happen, the news shifted from what Peng said to what other famous people felt about what Peng said.

It wasn’t until a while later that anyone got around to wondering where Peng was. That’s when a curious e-mail was sent to the Women’s Tennis Association, purportedly from Peng.

“The news in [a WTA release sent in support of Peng], including the allegation of sex assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.”

You heard her. She’s fine. She hasn’t vanished. She’s lying down at home. For two straight weeks. Without talking to anyone or sending any e-mails or texts. Total radio silence – just like most millennial pro athletes.

Once again, the collective sports world’s righteousness reflex took over. First things first – be visibly and very publicly outraged. Statement per WTA president Steve Simon: “The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”

Second thing – start a hashtag. #WhereIsPengShuai was trending midweek. Naomi Osaka’s concern over Peng’s whereabouts punted the story into its second news cycle. Now all her colleagues rushed to get in on her action, lest they seem less committed to the cause. Tweeting is the least they can do (quite literally).

Third thing – make threats. The WTA’s Simon told CNN on Thursday that he is willing to “pull our business” in China. Credit to him – that’s a stand the NBA couldn’t bring itself to take when it wandered into China’s crosshairs.

But we never seem to get to the fourth thing. That would be the nuclear option. Something along the lines of, “If they go ahead with the Olympics in Beijing, we are done with the Olympics.”

That won’t happen. Poor Peng will have to hope the Central Committee really hates trending on tennis Twitter.

Perhaps a combo of Peng’s fame and western outrage will inoculate her from real harm. But what is certain is that scores more in China – people who don’t play tennis for a living – did not, do not and will not get that same benefit.

Those people are just as real as Peng, and yet WTA, ATP and all sorts of other lucrative sporting events were taking place in China as they suffered. However the Peng affair ends, no one in tennis ought to be patting themselves on the back for being a shining light for human rights. No one gets to be a hero in this.

That’s the overarching problem here – we don’t connect to any story unless it has a clearly defined good guy and an equally obvious-to-spot bad guy. Where those two archetypes do not exist, we create them, often unfairly and according to the latest fashion.

The next Winter Olympics defies this axiom. It will be a big, popular showcase featuring a cast of grey people. Because everyone who takes part in it will be compromised in some way.

It’d be very easy for China to play nice in the international schoolyard for the next few weeks – but it won’t. It’s beginning to feel as though China creates dramas such as the Peng incident in order to remind the rest of us how impotent we are when what we believe conflicts with what we like.

We believe China is an authoritarian state that ought not to be valorized because it mistreats its own citizens. But we like the Olympics and the Olympics are in China. You see our problem, right?

On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden said he is considering a modified boycott of the Beijing Games. How is it modified? You’ll love this – it’s modified so that it’s not actually a boycott, but they will still call it a boycott. Genius, right?

This would be a diplomatic boycott, meaning no American officials would attend.

All the Pyeongchang Winter Games got was vice-president Mike Pence and one of the Trump kids. But China? Nothing. Not even a lousy Secretary of something that isn’t State. If that won’t smarten Chinese President Xi Jinping up, then I don’t know what will.

Between the Uyghurs, the two Michaels, disappeared journalists, COVID-19 cover-ups and the threats on Taiwan, it’s beginning to seem as though China doesn’t care what we think of it. It’s almost as if it believes it can go and do whatever it likes and that there won’t be any consequences.

Maybe because there aren’t any.

If people cared – I mean, really cared – there wouldn’t be a Beijing Olympics. But they don’t care.

They care enough to say something, though that’s a different sort of caring. That’s caring about appearing to care. As long as that condition has been satisfied (#WhereIsPengShuai), people will do what they like. What they like is going to, competing in, making money from and watching the Olympics.

None of this is to suggest that Beijing 2022 should be boycotted. Maybe it ought not have been awarded to China in the first place, but that’s an argument best held in a time machine.

The Games encourages the world’s various warring interests to come together in friendly competition. At its best, it fosters understanding and promotes co-operation. Instead of war, do luge. On a geopolitical level, that interest supersedes all others.

But there is no pretending anyone is clean in all of this. You can either stand on your beliefs, or you can compromise them to get something you want – whether that’s world peace, the chance for a gold medal or the fun of watching Olympic hockey with your pals.

You can’t stand in the middle of that moral river. Sooner or later, everyone has to pick a side. By the time February rolls around, and despite all the garment rending still to come, the vast, vast majority of us will end up on the same side as China.