U-M experts available to discuss diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics

December 7, 2021
Written By:
Laura Bailey


University of Michigan experts can discuss the Biden administration’s diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The move sends a message to protest human rights abuses in China while still allowing U.S. athletes to compete.

Mary Gallagher, whose research includes Chinese politics and U.S.-China relations, says a U.S. diplomatic boycott of the Olympics would expose fractures between the U.S. and its allies, which plays to China’s advantage.

Gallagher is a political scientist who directs the International Institute and a research associate professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

“It’s likely that Beijing will look for an event to boycott or an area for possible collaboration to renege on. It could be trade, punishment for U.S. companies operating in China, restrictions on U.S. professional sports associations that are eagerly appealing to the large Chinese market. In general, Beijing likes to use the power of its large market and the consumption capacity of its growing middle class to take revenge on foreign governments that anger it.”

Q&A: U-M expert: U.S. diplomatic boycott of Olympic Games should be unified effort with allies

Contact: metg@umich.edu, 734-764-3566

Judith Grant Long is an associate professor of Sport Management and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology. Long is an internationally recognized expert on the planning and finance of sport and tourism venues.

“The U.S. decision to mount a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing will have little impact on the commercial success of the event, as it poses no meaningful impediment to media, sponsors, and other entities who seek to profit from their association with the Olympics,” she said.

“For most Americans, this boycott will be largely invisible, since they would be hard pressed to name any U.S. ambassadors or other diplomats rewarded with the plum assignment of attending the Olympic Games, let alone notice their absence in the stands. International audiences are similarly unlikely to notice any impacts from this symbolic gesture.

“Olympic boycotts have proven to be blunt instruments of foreign policy, as evident in 1980 and 1984 when even full-on back-to-back boycotts by the US and USSR failed to move the needle of global politics.

“The IOC itself could play an important role in advancing global human rights through the host city selection process. However, as a private institution currently under siege on a number of fronts from doping to bribery, it is understandable that the IOC chooses to maintain access to important markets and to sustain long-term profitability through so-called quiet diplomacy.”

Contact: jglong@umich.edu

Stacy-Lynn Sant is an assistant professor of sport management and a member of the Center for Sports Venues and Real Estate Development at the U-M School of Kinesiology. Her research primarily focuses on sport event impact, destination marketing, and event-based strategies for social and economic development.

“Sport events serve as a useful and convenient platform for highlighting human rights abuses in host countries, and the Biden administration is doing just that. However, this measure will not impact the athletes set to compete. US corporations are some of the largest sponsors of the event and US media stands to generate marked revenue from broadcasts and streaming so this measure is largely symbolic. It is, in fact, business as usual.”

Sant said: “The IOC and FIFA have consistently awarded events to countries with dubious human rights records. Meaningful change starts with the competitive bid process. It must also be noted that the US and other Western countries have to contend with human rights issues of their own. Providing global leadership on human rights should coincide with our own efforts at home to combat systemic racism, poverty, and the erosion of civil rights.”

Contact: slsant@umich.edu, (734) 647-2704

John Ciorciari is an associate professor of public policy and director of the Ford School of Public Policy’s International Policy Center and Weiser Diplomacy Center. His research includes international relations, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region; international law and institutions; international criminal justice; and rule-of-law initiatives in fragile states.

“The choice of a diplomatic boycott, in contrast to the Carter administration’s full boycott of the 1980 Olympics in the USSR, reflects the complexity of U.S.-China relations,” he said. “The Biden administration rightly deplores the People’s Republic of China’s abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere but needs to stabilize the relationship and find ways to cooperate on shared global challenges like climate change and the pandemic. Of course, a unilateral diplomatic boycott will have much less force than a multilateral one. Whether U.S. allies follow suit will have broader implications for American efforts to constrain China on human rights and other fronts in the years ahead.”

Contact: johncior@umich.edu

Ann Chih Lin is the director of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies and Associate Professor of Public Policy in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.  Her current work examines international variations in the assignment of blame for the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as racial and ethnic differences in the experience of the pandemic in the United States.

“This diplomatic boycott is not directed at China; it won’t change Chinese policy and in fact will likely feed the belief, among ordinary Chinese, that the United States and other Western critics have invented stories about the persecution of Uyghurs. Instead, the diplomatic boycott is really a signal to American critics that the Biden Administration will be ‘tough on China.’ Unfortunately, ‘toughness’ alone is unlikely to accomplish any of the United States’ goals for its relationship with China.”

Contact: 734-764-7507, annlin@umich.edu

Melvyn Levitsky is a professor of international policy and practice at the Ford School of Public Policy. A retired U.S. ambassador, he served as officer-in-charge of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations and as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

“This diplomatic boycott allows our athletes to compete, but withdraws U.S.governmental and political figures from the games, thereby showing our displeasure with China’s human rights violations without punishing our athletes. This is a better way to make a political point than in 1980 when we pulled our athletes from the games in the USSR.”

Contact: 734-615-4262, levitsky@umich.edu