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Senators Respond to Olympic Committee Opposition to Boycotting Games: 'Putting Our Athletes in Undue Peril'

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool

Next month, athletes will go compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to play in a nation that unleashed the Wuhan coronavirus on the world and has committed a litany of human rights abuses, including genocide. Further, Republican lawmakers are concerned for athletes safety, yet even that was not enough, as the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) board of directors revealed on Friday.


Fox News' Caitlin McFall covered a letter from the USOPC that the outlet obtained on Friday, which claimed that the boycott would only serve to hurt athletes. 

"An athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to human rights or geopolitical issues," wrote Susanne Lyons, chair of the USOPC. "The USOPC is opposed to athlete boycotts because they have been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues."

Lyons even tried to claim that participation in the games may actually help raise awareness. From McFall's reporting:

But the USOPC chair argued the Games can raise awareness of an issue.

She instead pointed to another moment in history when a sporting event was used to garner positive attention surrounding a geopolitical issue and has become one of "the most celebrated moments in our nation’s sporting history."

The U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union during a tense 1980 Winter Olympic match, just months prior to the summer athlete boycott, when it hit the ice in New York in what would become one of the great upsets in sporting history – known as the "Miracle on Ice."

"That competition and the American victory inspired our nation and stood as testament to the power of democracy and freedom," Lyons said.

Lyons' letter was in response to a letter from Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) that was sent last November. Both senators have been vocal opponents of the influence China has over the world, while also raising awareness about safety concerns that could exist for athletes in the country.


The letter read in part:

In a December 5, 2019, correspondence to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), I led members of the Senate in highlighting numerous human rights violations unfolding in China. With the Olympics being three months away, it is imperative that the USOPC take action and boycott the Beijing Olympics. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a country plagued with violent suppression of free speech, state-sponsored oppression, and other human rights abuses. As Communist Chinese Party (CCP) authorities enjoy unchecked power and zero accountability, American athletes could face severe endangerment. Moreover, China's controversial national security law creates harsher sentences against Hong Kong residents who support secession or coordinate with foreign powers. The recent disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai is an alarming reminder of Beijing’s willingness to silence any opposition.

The CCP has a vile history of violating human rights and religious freedom. These concerns are especially pronounced given the use of new and emerging technologies to suppress groups including Uyghurs, Tibetans, Inner Mongolians, and Hongkongers. The Department of State annual Report on Human Rights Practices identified a peak in human rights abuses around the 2008 Olympic Games. This report documents numerous violations, including: forced relocations linked to Olympic infrastructure construction; mandatory travel abroad or house arrest for political prisoners during the Games; increased surveillance of civil society organizations and suspension of meetings and activities by NGOs; increased harassment of religious groups, including prominent Christian activists; directives to schools and universities regarding guardrails for political and social discourse leading up to and during the Olympics; heightened harassment, detention, and incarceration of dissidents; restrictions on the right to assemble and raise grievances; and other abuses. There is no indication that the CCP will not repeat these abuses in February.


In a statement for Townhall, Sen. Blackburn emphasized these human rights abuses outlined in the report and the failure of sending out a message. 

"Following the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, we saw an increase in human rights abuses from the Communist Chinese government. Without sending a clear message with a complete boycott, there is no way to guarantee those same egregious practices won’t be repeated. It’s simply unsafe to send our athletes to the 2022 Winter Olympics under China’s authoritarian leadership," she said. 

As Spencer covered in November, China "disappeared" tennis player Peng Shuai, who was not seen or heard of for several days after she claimed that Zhang Gaoli, a former Vice Premier and senior Chinese Communist Party official, sexually assaulted her. When she did reappear, she then claimed she never made such allegations.

Sen. Cotton has also spoken about security concerns to do with the Olympic Games before. 

As I highlighted in June, he sent a letter to President Joe Biden referencing the CCP's operating of "the world's most invasive domestic surveillance system," that the CCP "considers DNA collection a vital intelligence-gathering objective," and how "the CCP arbitrarily detains Americans and other Western visitors to China." On that last note, Cotton's letter also pointed out that the "State Department has now issued a Level 3 Travel Advisory for China ("Reconsider Travel") because of the Chinese government's use of arbitrary detention and exit bans."


There is also a particular concern for those traveling who have dared to speak out against the CCP's human rights abuses in China and in nearby areas such as Taiwan and Tibet.

Sen. Cotton provided a statement to Townhall regarding Lyons' response, reaffirming how high the stakes are. 

 "The Biden administration and the international Olympic movement are failing America’s athletes by allowing the Olympic games to take place in China. The security concerns for our athletes in China are simply too great, and President Biden hasn’t taken the appropriate steps to guarantee Americans’ safety. I regret that a full athlete ban is the only appropriate course of action, but by moving forward, the U.S. Olympic Committee is putting our athletes in undue peril," he said. 

Sadly this is hardly a surprising move, though. After rebuffing reporters for months, the Biden administration just last month announced a diplomatic boycott, though that essentially amounts to nothing. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been resistant to calls for boycotts as well.

The Games will last from February 4 until February 20.

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