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US athletes still participating amid US diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

Decorative stand promoting the Beijing Winter Olympic 2022 in front of the Beijing National Stadium Bird's Nest in Beijing, China
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Decorative stand promoting the Beijing Winter Olympic 2022 in front of the Beijing National Stadium Bird's Nest in Beijing, China.

The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, kick off with the opening ceremony tomorrow night. While the Olympics are a chance for the host country to show off their top athletes and culture, many global dignitaries will be leaving seats empty.

In December, the United States called for a diplomatic boycottof the Games to protest the Chinese government's human rights violations, such as the mass detention camps and forced sterilization against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities living in China's western province.

Our diplomatic ban was followed by Australia, Great Britain, and Canada. Dr. Karen Hoffman, adjunct professor of political science at Marquette University and associate director of the Les Aspin Center for Government internship program, breaks down the boycott and its implications.

Hoffman explains what a diplomatic boycott of the Games is: "Sometimes presidents go, sometimes vice presidents, or other representatives of the country go, and we are not going to have any representation at Beijing in terms of that. The athletes will all still be there, so it's not a full boycott. China said that they don't need those people to be at the Olympics anyway. So it's not a big deal," says Hoffman.

The United States public has had a quiet reaction to the diplomatic boycott. Hoffman says some think there should be more done, but banning the athletes from competing completely is pretty unpopular as well.

While there likely won't be any major upheaval over the absence of officials at the Games, the event can still be used to send a message all over the world.

Hoffman notes that politics intersecting with the Olympics is nothing new. South Africa was banned from the Games due to its apartheid for a number of years until it stopped. Russia was banned not too long ago for drug doping and then they boycotted the U.S. Olympics to return the favor, she notes.

"To my knowledge, none of these boycotts or bans or, you know, diplomatic or otherwise have actually changed a country's policy, but I still think that people see a need to get a message out there. I can't think of many other venues where you could have a guarantee that many people are going to be hearing about it," says Hoffman.

The diplomatic boycott however can take away the focus from athletes' achievements, and China has implemented strict restrictions on what athletes can say during their time in Beijing, she notes.

Still, Hoffman expects that most athletes will try to keep the tone of peace and understanding at the Games. "People are gonna watch the Olympics, no matter what. I don't know, for anyone who thought there were gonna be fireworks about this I think there are not," says Hoffman.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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