Blabbing Olympics diplomacy

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The Bejing 2022 Winter Olympic Games just concluded. While the games have their own rules and traditions, it’s always been inevitable for international politics to play a role.

Fireworks with a nice message at the closing ceremony

The International Olympic Committee currently recognises 206 National Olympic Committees, meaning 206 nations joined the olympic movement. Since the exact number of the states of the world depends on different variables (what definition of a state we accept, states not recognised by every other state, etc.) and sports are still the one thing that brings together most of them regardless of politics, this is the closest number we know. Note that the United Nations currently has 193 member states.

This year, the games were not just being shadowed (and for some athletes straightright ruined) by the ongoing threat of the pandemic, there were also some diplomatic disputes preceeding the event. In the past years more and more states gave voice to their concerns over China’s human rights records, mostly for the treatment of the country’s Uyghur muslim minority that some label as genocide, and recently also for human rights violations in Hong Kong.

In the post World War II world order China has a prominent seat in every major diplomatic table. World leaders can watch the reports about human rights violations with concern, but finding ways to signal their concern while also keeping the equilibrium in balance is a delicate business these days. I have to say when governments started releasing statements about their intent to boycott the olympics I was among those who thought what does it matter? World leaders should’t just be flying around now due to covid anyway, what difference does this make? Well, as many such signals in diplomacy, it is making a statement without doing any major harm in the countries’ relations. Mind you, a diplomatic boycott is not a real boycott, since their athletes still can compete at the games, just no leaders of their countries would show up to cheer them. There are many significant examples of real boycotts, as well as diplomatic scandals surrounding the games in history, I won’t even try to list them.

Some athletes were even warned by their governments to use a burner phone while in Bejing due to concerns about China’s surveillance on communication devices. Also, although the Olympic Committee generally doesn’t encourage political statements and protests by athletes, they occur (in symbolic gestures like clothing, or more pronounced with signs or in interviews) from time to time. Except when the event is being held in a country led by an autocratic regime known for supressing the freedom of speech, then people should really whatch what they say or do.

One thing is sure, the olympics should be solely about sportsmanship with no regard to politics whatsoever. Granting a country with the right to host the games nowadays is more like a business decision, than a political one, although it is arguable whether human rights concerns should play a role, so that no boycotts would be needed later. I definitely think that the Committee should pay more attention to these kinds of concerns as well.

Although nothing is certain in the world at this moment, the upcoming games – Paris 2024, Milano 2026, LA 2028 – promise to be on the safer side, at least in terms of human rights concerns. Let’s hope that no pandemic and no war will disturb the olympic ideal in the future.

Author: admin

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