Mr Alyan Waheed is an undergraduate student studying IR at National Defence University, Islamabad.
The Politics of Olympic Diplomacy
Calls are arising to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics that will be held in Beijing. These calls are being made to address the world about Chinese human rights abuses, and China’s actions in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Reports suggest that there are over 180 human rights groups, lawyers, and politicians who have called the United States of America for a boycott.
Why have power politics always been involved in the Olympics, and why are the Olympics important for the great powers? There have been boycotts in the previous Olympic Games: 30 African nations and Taiwan boycotted the 1976 Montreal Olympics; around 60 countries boycotted the Moscow games held in 1980; and there were calls for boycotting the Beijing Olympics 2008 and Sochi Olympics 2014.
Great powers invest a lot in these games to raise their status in the international arena. There has been a sharp decline in America’s spending on the Olympics, but Russia and China continue to lavish billions of dollars on the games. Olympic diplomacy is used by states to showcase the image and dynamism of their state’s progress on the world stage.
The hosting state invites other countries for the Olympics and the conspicuous motive is to show its achievements, institutional competence, and economic development to the world at large. American economist Thorsten Veblen said, “it is not enough to merely possess the wealth”. He argued that this wealth must be put in evidence because admiration is conferred on evidence.
This is a reason why great powers and other countries irrationally spend wealth on staging the Olympics. For example, Russia spent $50 billion on the 2014 Olympics, while China poured out $2 billion on the 2008 Olympics. After squandering such a large amount of money in staging the Olympics, the next task is to win these games because success offers a sort of vindication.
These countries also spend a hefty amount of money on raising their athletes. Russia spent $25 million before the 2014 Olympics for the training of its athletes. How much China spends on its athletes is cloistered. A large sum of money and desire for winning has led to many charges of cheating on different states, especially Russia and China. These countries were indicted for doping and stating the false ages of their athletes.
Different Governments, Different Approach
There is also a sharp difference in approach to the Olympics between democracies and authoritarian regimes. Although the United States of America focused much on Olympic diplomacy during the cold war, in today’s world, Russia and China are in the lead. The main reason for it is that the representative governments in democratic states are much more concerned about the citizens’ welfare than their international standing.
On the other hand, authoritarian governments care less about the well-being of their citizens and the epicenter of their attention is their status at the international level. If democratic states squander that much amount on the Olympics, they would have to be answerable to the people’s representatives, but the leaders of authoritative regimes are not accountable to anyone.
They take decisions and their cronies emblazon their actions for a minimum gain. The gains of staging the Olympics extend from increased economic to international standing. In economic terms, if states stage the Olympics, it will attract many tourists and investment, which, in turn, leads to economic growth.
Boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics
Today, in this globalized world, states are very much integrated with each other in their economies. By hosting a large community of states, Russia and China can increase their international interactions. The boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics is not going to be effective because not many states will boycott and go against the rising superpower China amidst this pandemic.
States, especially developing nations, are in need of vaccines to tackle the coronavirus, so enraging China will not be a wise policy option for many states. If great powers take the Olympics as competition, then China will most probably respond to those who will boycott. Also, despite the fact that America is back on its role as a world power and strong partner against China, given the experiences of the Trump era, states are skeptical of complete reliance on the United States of America.
If we focus on current trends in America, we can fully understand that China is an epicenter of attention for America. The Biden administration is focusing much on the Asia-Pacific than the Middle East. The US has decided to withdraw troops from Saudi Arabia along with missiles and aircraft amidst the growing tensions in the region.
Biden administration has accepted that the most challenging threat to the US is China. As a result, America is diverting its military might and capabilities to use elsewhere. The reinvigoration of QUAD to deter China is another step that the American administration has undertaken this year. Also, America has raised serious concerns over the reports of the investigation of the eruption of Covid-19.
Ping-Pong Diplomacy Again?
The trends above demonstrate that America will never want a good international standing of China. The American administration will try to degrade the Chinese regime as much as they can. Amidst the voices of boycott, there are also calls for new ping-pong diplomacy, which could lead to a rapprochement between the Chinese and American governments and people, which was the case in April 1971.
The events of 1971 called ping-pong diplomacy led to Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing, becoming the first American president to visit the People’s Republic of China. Also, President Joe Biden himself is a fan of ice hockey, and it can be an opening of rapport between the leaders. Time will reveal which power gains how much from the 2022 Olympics in terms of olympic diplomacy.
Choices are here, and it depends on states to adopt the correct policy option. If a large number of states boycott, then it can degrade the image of China at the international level, but if the opposite happens, then the iteration of Western media of human rights abuses will weaken.
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