Updated Feb 3, 2022 - Sports

What a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics means

A worker sets up an installation displaying the logo of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games along a street in Beijing on January 21, 2022.
A worker sets up an installation with the logo of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on a street in Beijing on January 21, 2022. Photo: Jade Gao/AFP via Getty Images

In December, the U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, a move that was followed promptly by other countries, including Canada and Australia.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott marked an escalation of pressure from the U.S. on the Chinese government over allegations of human rights abuses against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, a northwestern province of China.

Here's a look at what the diplomatic boycott means in practice.

What is a diplomatic boycott?
  • Government officials will not attend the Olympic Games, an event that is often attended by high-ranking officials from all over the world.
  • The diplomatic boycott, however, is not a full boycott of the Games. It does not prevent American athletes from competing in the Games, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
  • "The athletes on Team USA have our full support, we’ll be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home," Psaki said.
Why did the U.S. announce a diplomatic boycott?
  • The U.S. said the diplomatic boycott was to protest human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.
  • Last year, the U.S. called the CCP's actions against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, which include mass internment and forced sterilization, "genocide" and "crimes against humanity."
  • The diplomatic boycott also came on the heels of the Women's Tennis Association suspending all tournaments in China and Hong Kong over the treatment of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who accused China's former vice premier of sexual assault and was not seen for weeks after speaking out.
What are Americans' views of the diplomatic boycott?
  • Nearly half of all Americans say they approve of the diplomatic boycott, according to polling by the Pew Research Center.
  • Support is bipartisan: 50% of Democratic or Democratic-leaning respondents, along with 45% of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents, said that they at least somewhat approve of the boycott, according to the poll.
  • Yes, but: Nearly half — 45% — of American adults said they hadn't heard anything about the boycott.
Which other countries have announced a diplomatic boycott?

A number of countries have announced a diplomatic boycott to protest human rights abuses committed by China's government, Axios' Yacob Reyes reports. The other countries include...

What is the Chinese government saying about the diplomatic boycott?
  • After the U.S. announced the diplomatic boycott, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington wrote on Twitter: "In fact, no one would care about whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the #Beijing2022 to be successfully held."
  • Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that in announcing the boycott, the U.S. is attempting to interfere with the Games "out of ideological prejudice and based on lies and rumors," AP reports.
Have there been any other Olympic boycotts in history?
  • Yes. More than 100 countries combined staged full boycotts of three Summer Olympic Games in a row from 1976 to 1984, AP reports.
  • The most prominent Olympic boycott was in 1980, when more than 60 countries, including the U.S., sat out of the Summer Olympics in Moscow after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, according to the Washington Post.
  • At least 466 U.S. athletes sat out of the Games that summer, USA Today reports.

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