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Views Mixed On Boycotting 2008 Beijing Olympics

Views Mixed on Boycotting 2008 Beijing Olympics

Debate continues on calls from human rights and press freedom groups for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to protest the Chinese government's repression of journalists and human rights activists and its policies toward Sudan, but some argue that a boycott would accomplish nothing and could be counterproductive.

One group saying a boycott might be needed is the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. It says the Chinese government has imprisoned 27 journalists and more than 60 Internet users, making China the "largest prison for journalists in the world."

Tala Dowlatshahi, director of the group's New York office, told USINFO that the Chinese government is compiling files on many journalists and human rights activists before the Olympics, scheduled for Beijing August 8-24, 2008.

Compiling such files, with its dubious purpose to identify what China calls "fake journalists," said Dowlatshahi, is an "invasion of privacy and goes against all the international conventions set up to keep journalists free and independent."

Dowlatshahi said the Swiss-based International Olympic Committee should apply "more pressure" on the Chinese government to end its crackdown on the media. If the situation does not improve, her group would favor a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, she said.

Chinese Olympic officials offer the defense that the government is creating a database on foreign journalists to help the media cover the event and is not attempting to monitor the press or "threaten anyone."

A skeptic of that explanation is the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Joel Simon, the group's executive director, said in a November 12 statement that the Olympics "cannot continue to be used as an excuse for restricting press freedom in China."

Simon said that allegations of "fake" reporting are a "transparent justification for extending the Chinese government's strict control of press coverage, in violation of all [its] promises to the contrary. We call on the [Chinese] government to institute the absolute freedom of the press that was guaranteed when the Games were awarded" to China in 2001.

Boycott calls also are coming from several members of the U.S. Congress. California Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher offered a resolution August 2 urging the United States to boycott the Olympics unless the Chinese government "stops engaging in serious human rights abuses against its citizens." But the measure has gained few co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.


The State Department issued a statement June 4 saying it opposes an Olympic boycott. The department's statement came in reaction to suggestions that a threatened boycott would pressure China into helping stop genocide in the Sudanese province of Darfur.

The Colorado-based U.S. Olympic Committee had a similar negative reaction to tying a boycott with China's policies on Sudan. Darryl Seibel, a committee spokesman, said June 4 the Olympic movement is "about sport, not politics." In reference to Olympic boycotts staged in 1956, 1976, 1980 and 1984, Seibel said that, "as has been demonstrated in the past, boycotts accomplish absolutely nothing other than to unfairly penalize athletes who have spent decades preparing for that moment."

President Bush announced September 6 that he had accepted China's invitation to attend the Beijing Olympics. Bush said the event would be a "great moment of pride for the Chinese people" and also a "moment where China's leaders can use the opportunity to show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance" in Chinese society. (See related article.)


Susan Brownell, a 2007-2008 U.S. Fulbright scholar who is in Beijing researching the upcoming Olympics, told USINFO that a boycott "would be a terrible idea" and "harmful to everyone concerned."

Brownell, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, said the Olympics, as a nongovernmental organization, serves as "an alternative to mainstream diplomatic channels" and functions "in the cracks between governments." Brownell said her research under the State Department-administered Fulbright program is examining whether the Olympics have contributed to greater mutual cross-cultural understanding between China and Western societies.

Brownell, whose new book Beijing's Games: What the Olympics Mean to China is scheduled for release in February 2008, said the international event will speed up the "formation of a civil society in urban China by perhaps as much as 5-10 years."

Brownell said "it is not possible to keep politics out of the Olympics, and, in fact, their political role is what makes them important in today's world and in the quest for world peace."

An Olympic boycott, she said, "is highly unlikely to happen, though I suppose" the topic "makes good headlines."


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