(by Josh Gerstein, NYSun.com) – The Bush administration and American Olympic officials are rebuffing calls to consider a boycott of the Olympic Games in Beijing next year to protest China’s sluggish response to the genocide in Darfur.

The U.S. Olympic Committee pointedly rejected the idea of a boycott, which was floated by Governor Richardson of New Mexico on Sunday night during a debate for Democratic presidential candidates.

“We completely disagree with the point of view expressed by Governor Richardson,” a spokesman for the committee, Darryl Seibel, said yesterday. “The Olympic movement is about sport, not politics, and, 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.”

A State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, distanced official Washington from the talk of a boycott. “It is not a U.S. government effort. It is not something that we have supported,” he said.

A Republican presidential candidate who oversaw the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Mitt Romney, also opposes Mr. Richardson’s suggestion. “Governor Romney believes it would be a mistake to punish our athletes. It didn’t accomplish anything when Jimmy Carter tried it, and it won’t accomplish anything now,” a spokesman for the former Massachusetts governor, Eric Fehrnstrom, said. “There are other ways to express our unhappiness.”

Mr. Richardson’s campaign said he stood by his position that discussion of an Olympic boycott could encourage China to use its economic ties with Sudan to press the African nation to stop persecuting minorities in the Darfur region. “China has the power to put pressure on Sudan to allow a full U.N. peacekeeping force in the country, but hasn’t. China is looking forward to hosting the Summer Olympics to show itself off to the world. That desire is just one leverage point with China,” a spokesman for Mr. Richardson, Pahl Shipley, said.

Mr. Richardson’s team did not repeat his call for a boycott, but said “every option” for resolving the crisis should be considered.

Activists pressing for action to stop the killing in Darfur said yesterday that they appreciated the New Mexico governor raising the issue in a high-profile forum such as the presidential debate but said a boycott is not the best way to pressure the Chinese to take stronger steps.

“I welcome the fact that China, Darfur, and the Olympics were raised in the same breath and that the connection between China and Darfur was made, but it’s a bit simplistic to go immediately from that to a boycott,” one activist, Jill Savitt, said. Her group, Olympic Dream for Darfur, is organizing an unofficial Olympic torch run that will pass through countries tied to genocide, such as Germany and Rwanda, before winding up in Hong Kong.

“We don’t support a boycott. I don’t think there are many voices out there supporting a boycott,” she said. “We believe the best place for countries to do battle is the sports arena.”

A resolution pressing China to become more active on Darfur is circulating in Congress, but staffers there said no boycott effort is under discussion.

In March, a center-right French presidential candidate, François Bayrou, called for a boycott of the Beijing games over the Darfur issue. He was eliminated from the running after receiving 19% of the vote.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not return a call seeking comment for this article. Last month, the country’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, dismissed those trying to link the Olympics to the Darfur fighting. “There are a handful of people who are trying to politicize the Olympic Games,” Mr. Yang said. “Their objectives … will never be attained.”

In 1980, President Carter ordered an American boycott of the Moscow Olympics over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. About 60 nations joined in the symbolic effort to varying degrees, despite bitter protests from athletes. In 1984, the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Olympic Games over alleged safety concerns, though the move was widely seen as retaliation for the American withdrawal four years earlier.

Mr. Seibel said yesterday that the Olympics should not be a focal point for changing China’s policy in Sudan, where it has extensive oil investments. “We think it is inappropriate to politicize the games for any reason,” he said.

“Genocide is not a political issue,” Ms. Savitt countered. “It is the responsibility of anyone with any power to stop genocide to do so. … It will be a very grim irony next summer if images of the dead and dying in Darfur are broadcast alongside images of glory coming out of Beijing.”

At Sunday’s debate, another Democratic candidate, John Edwards, signaled that an Olympic boycott should be considered. However, the leading contenders for the nomination, Senators Clinton and Obama, did not raise their hands when asked if they would support a boycott.

One Democratic hopeful, Senator Dodd of Connecticut, emphatically rejected the concept.

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.


1.  a) Define boycott.
b) Who called for a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics which will be held in Beijing?

2.  Why did he call for the boycott?  Be specific. (Details found in para. 6)

3.  Why does the U.S. Olympic Committee reject the idea of a boycott?

4.  Why does the Bush administration oppose the boycott per State Depatment spokesman Sean McCormack?

5.  Why does presidential hopeful Mitt Romney oppose the boycott?

6.  Why do activists working to stop the genocide in Darfur oppose the boycott?

7.  Why did President Jimmy Carter order a boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980?

8.  Do you think the U.S. should boycott the Beijing Olympics?  Explain your answer.


Genocide in Darfur
Darfur’s conflict began four years ago, when the Islamic [Arab] government launched an ethnic-cleansing campaign against black muslims. It backed Arab militias called the Janjaweed, which destroyed villages, raped women, and plundered livestock. With rebel groups fighting back, the conflict has killed some 300,000 and displaced a further 2 million from their homes. The attacks have not stopped, despite international scoldings and a Peace Agreement signed a year ago.

For a detailed background on the genocide in Darfur, go to hrw.org/english/docs/2004/05/05/darfur8536.htm.

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