Don’t hold your breath, but French presidential candidate Francois Bayrou has called for a boycott on the Beijing Olympic Games in protest of China’s support for Sudan. They must be shaking with revulsion down at the Great Hall of the People.
Of course, this idea is surely going nowhere. But it’s worth considering: could the world change China’s mind about Sudan by threatening not to attend the Olympics?
If the threat were credible and included lots of countries from the Americas and Europe, then we might see China abandon its oil deals in Sudan and let sanctions reign.
But ignoring the fact, for the moment, that Coca-Cola and its ilk would never allow the US to deny them a chance to sponsor the biggest event in China since the Mongol invasion (save that nasty demonstration stuff 18 years ago – hardly a marketing opportunity), let’s consider whether a boycott could ever have its intended effect.
Twenty-seven African countries, plus Iraq, boycotted the 1976 Montreal Games because New Zealand was included – they were unhappy at how the New Zealand rugby union team was still playing internationals against Apartheid South Africa. While a powerful statement, it is hard to argue that this stand led to the end of South Africa’s racist regime. Incidentally, China and Taiwan both stayed home that year, each one protesting the other’s invitation.
When Jimmy Carter announced a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, in protest of the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan, he managed to get some 64 countries to follow along, causing a disruption but not a cessation of the Games. The Soviets won a record 80 gold medals due to the lack of competition. Oh, and they kept their troops in Afghanistan, too.
Four years later in Los Angeles, the Reds wanted revenge and so refused to allow any Eastern Bloc athletes to compete in the “anti-communist” environment of Hollywood, USA. They were joined by the Cubans, but their efforts were watered down by China’s decision to break ideological ranks and return to the Olympics after a 32-year absence. This resulted in the weakest Olympic boycott of them all.
It is pretty clear that a real boycott led by France against the Beijing Olympics would ultimately fail. But it would be interesting in the reactions it provoked. For example, would George Clooney and other concerned celebrities call for the US to join the boycott?
Personally, I think such actions would only hurt the athletes involved, who have been training and waiting for their moment in the sun. Besides, if the US had boycotted the 1936 Berlin Olympics on account of politics, there would have been no Jesse Owens story. And that is what the Games are supposed to be about.