Politics and sports should be dealt with independently

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Imagine being a world-class athlete on your way to the Olympics.

Then, imagine that your country decides to boycott the Olympics because of the actions of the host government, taking away your chance to earn a gold medal. For most athletes, making their country’s Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Unfortunately, many of the world’s best athletes soon may be forced to miss out on the experience.

Around the world, countries are considering boycotting the 2008 Beijing Olympics because of a dislike of Chinese policies. Politics are being brought into an athletic competition, urging world leaders to boycott the games completely, or, if unwilling to go that far, to boycott at least the opening and closing ceremonies.

Some leaders have declined a boycott, acknowledging the fact that the Olympics are a time for countries of the world to come together peacefully and participate in good-natured competition, not a time to dispute politics and human rights records or to make a political statement. These leaders recognize that taking the opportunity to compete away from their athletes will not change China’s policies, and that the athletes deserve to be supported, regardless of which country hosts the games.

A more effective method of creating change in China is to separate the Olympics from politics, and address the political and human rights situations directly without protesting the games. Supporting the athletes in their efforts does not necessarily imply that one supports China’s politics.

One major complaint against China regards the displacement of Chinese people that resulted from the government’s destruction of ancient alleyways called hutongs. The Chinese hutongs are being demolished because the government wants Beijing to appear more modern when the world’s eye turns to the city for this summer’s upcoming games. China’s goal was to present a modernized front to the world, but instead their actions are being criticized as protesters act as though China is the only country ever to displace its citizens. While this is wrong, it is not a reason to boycott the Olympics. Surely other Olympic hosts have done this same thing before, and no boycotts have occurred because of it.

Looking at the history of the United States, we can see similar instances in the relocation of the Native Americans by the U.S. government. In other cases, people have been forced to sell their land and their homes to make way for highways, railroads, and buildings. Displacement of people through no fault of their own isn’t a new concept, and it happens everywhere — not just in China.

Another criticism stems from the conflict between Tibet and China, as some protesters and boycott supporters argue that the Olympics should be boycotted because China refuses to grant independence to Tibet, which it has occupied since 1949 under the guise of “liberating” the country and claiming that it’s a part of China. Again, I stress the necessity of separating politics from sports, and especially from the Olympics.

Yet another reason activists support a boycott against the Beijing Olympics is that the Chinese government financially supports the government of Sudan, which is currently committing acts of genocide in Darfur. I’ll be the first to admit that this is immoral, but also, that it is unrelated to the Olympic games. Issues of genocide and international politics should be dealt with aside from the Olympics. Boycotting the Olympics isn’t going to bully the Chinese government into changing its policies.

A similar debate ensued in the past. In 1936, the summer Olympics were to take place in Berlin under Hitler’s Nazi regime. He forced arrests of people he considered undesirable and used the games as a chance to spew forth his propaganda. Then, as now, Americans and others supported a boycott of the games, afraid that showing support for the games would show support for Hitler’s policies. In a vote concerning the boycott, the efforts of protesters failed and an American team was sent to Berlin. We did not support the actions of Adolf Hitler or the Nazi regime then, nor do we need now to support the actions of the Chinese government. We did, however — and should continue to — support our athletes in the games.

There are many ways that protesters can be heard without boycotting the Olympics. Traditional methods of supporting human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, and joining groups such as Students for Tibet are more effective than being blind to the fact that athletes have worked hard to get to the Olympics and deserve to compete with their leaders’ presence and support. In addition, the option always exists to contact local Congressional representatives to try to push for some sort of government action in solving any political problem.

It’s easy to lump together China’s policies and the Olympics, but once the two issues are separated, they can be dealt with more effectively. It is entirely possible to support human rights causes and to protest the actions of the Chinese government while still supporting the athletes that represent your country in the Olympic games. Supporting the Olympics isn’t the same as supporting the host country, and we must keep in mind the hard work the athletes have put forth to get where they are today. Boycotting won’t solve anything, and it isn’t right to take away the chance of a lifetime from any athlete.