The first argument against boycotting the games is of a political nature: a boycott would be one of the most hypocritical and hollow foreign policy moves in the history of the country. The last and only Olympics that the United States refused to attend were the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Despite the ongoing Cold War, the US and the USSR had competed in every set of games since the World War II. So what caused President Jimmy Carter to suspend the long run of American participation? In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, igniting fears across the world of an international, uncontainable encroachment of communism. However, this invasion and occupation, a drain on the economy, military, and political capital of the USSR, so weakened the country that it was ultimately a defeat for the Soviet Union and communism on the world stage.
Fast-forward to 2008. Over six years ago, the US invaded Afghanistan. In 2003, though battle continued in Afghanistan, the United States invaded and then occupied Iraq, igniting fears across the world of an international, uncontainable encroachment of Western ideology. However, these invasions and occupation, drains on the economy, military, and political capital of the US, so weakened the country that they were, in many ways, a defeat for the United States and democracy on the world stage. Sound familiar?
This year, the games are once again held in a country that has encroached on the sovereignty of another nation, committed severe human rights violations, and funded a war. No, I’m talking about China now. But the fact that Red, White, and Blue is still considering skipping the Games’ opening ceremonies, with many of its citizens calling for an all-out Olympic boycott, is the height of hypocrisy. Before the United States and its citizens don their capes, they might want to check the label on the costume box. The capes might be Made in ChinaTM.
However, to cite hypocrisy as the reason the American celebrities, politicians, and ordinary citizens should drop their protest is to sell short the spirit of the games. The object of sport is to bring together different sides to compete within stated rules and parameters. Sport is not merely a popular form of entertainment for both competitors and spectators. Sport is a social means of achieving unity, acceptance, and a higher understanding of what it means to be human.
Think I’m overstating the sociological significance of athletics? Examine the effect Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Muhammad Ali had on breaking down racial stereotypes in America. Consider that Taiwanese pitcher Chien-Ming Wang’s performance non-coincidentally correlates with “fluctuations of the Taiwan Stock Exchange,” according to a recent Sports Illustrated article. Look at your city or town and recognize the sense of identity that comes from the local high school, collegiate, or professional sports teams.
The Olympic Games themselves have a long history of social achievement. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, African-American Sprinter Jesse Owens won four medals in Nazi Germany. He became a hero in Germany; there is a street leading to the Olympic stadium named after him today. In 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the medal podium, poignantly protesting American racial inequality. Every American born before 1975 knows where they were for USA 4, USSR 3 in 1980. Those are the lasting images of the Olympic Games for the United States.
The Olympic Games bring the world community to a higher place. In a time where the word “international” is almost always followed by “conflict,” finding a place where all countries can agree to play by the same rules isn’t just rare, it’s unique. By boycotting the Olympics, the United States would not be virtuously leading the international community—the US would be ignorantly abandoning it.