Russian President Vladimir Putin’s big statement that he gladly accepted the invitation to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics is significant in many ways. The Games will be hosted in Beijing and Zhangjiakou of North China’s Hebei Province from February 4 to 20. This comes amid a boycott threat by the Western bloc, led by the United States of America’s protest at China’s record on human rights. Putin’s move will give big moral support to China, which feels a mass withdrawal of countries will ruin the Olympic spirit. Irked by their behaviour, China hit out at the Western leaders for politicising the sporting event. It is a move by the Western forces hyping the boycott threat but China is firm that it will not stop it from hosting the event. Human rights activists are stepping up their campaign against the Games in protest against the genocide of the Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking people in Xinjiang, the colonisation of Tibet and the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. They have urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to cancel or move the Games and if that fails, they’ll ask the athletes to boycott. Therefore, the Russian President’s announcement comes as a whiff of fresh air. If reports are true, then Russia would send a big contingent. Russia has a lovely track record in the Winter Olympics. They topped the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics with 11 gold medals and 18 silvers and bronzes. The US came in second. Then in the 2018 Winter Games, Russia had good returns. China, on return to the Olympic fold, too has dominated in both Summer and Winter Games. Thus any boycott threat would lead to the downgrading of the Games.
The boycott of the Olympic Games, whether it is Summer or Winter, has been a common phenomenon since the 80s. It all started in the 1980 Moscow Olympics when the entire Western Bloc pulled out of the quadrennial event. The IOC was steadfast with the then Soviet Union government. The US had led the protest demanding pull-out of the Soviet Union troops from Afghanistan and citing violation of human rights. The IOC allowed the National Olympic Committee (NOC) to participate in the Games. The governments of the United Kingdom, France and Australia supported the boycott but left the final decision to the respective Olympic bodies. As a result, it saw countries like Britain and Australia sending a smaller contingent while the US did not send a single athlete for the meet. The Soviet Union and 14 of its allies in retaliation boycotted the 1984 Games held in Los Angeles. This new boycott threat will hurt the athletes, who often fall victims to the whimsical government. The IOC is hapless in this type of crisis. But cancelling or boycotting is against the basic tenets of Olympic spirit and movement.
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