All around the world, people have used the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing as a platform to question China’s human rights records in Tibet and its policies toward the Darfur region of Sudan.
Numerous protesters tried to snuff the flame while it was being carried through Paris. In London, someone grabbed at the torch, forcing officials to reroute the torch’s path without publicizing the change. During the torch’s time in San Francisco, a person scaled the Golden Gate Bridge and raised a banner that read, “Stop Killing.” At that stop, International Olympic Committee members went on record saying organizers should consider halting the flame’s 85,000-mile relay to Beijing.
But here, University athletes hoping to earn a spot in the summer games say politics and sports shouldn’t mix.
Michigan junior gymnast Joe Catrambone is one of those athletes. He said he wants more attention on the athletes than on the politics.
When asked how President Bush should respond to calls urging him to boycott the opening ceremony for the games, Catrambone responded apathetically.
“I personally don’t care,” he said. He can go or do what he wants, but I feel like boycotting is pretty extreme,” he said. “It’s what everyone has worked so hard for their entire life, so I don’t think I would ever protest the Olympic Games if I had the choice.”
Senior swimmer Alex Vanderkaay, who will compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team at the Olympic trials in July, said people should be able to make the distinction between the games and their opinion on another nation’s politics.
“I definitely don’t agree with what’s going on over there,” he said. “But I just think that mixing it with what is going to happen there in a couple months is making it worse.”
Bush has said he plans to attend the opening ceremony August 8, despite calls from Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to boycott. If he does attend, Bush would become the first U.S. president to attend an Olympic Games hosted on foreign soil.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of boycotting the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Britain’s Prince Charles and the Japanese royal family have also said they plan not to attend the Olympics.
“I think a lot of people are mixing the athletics and the politics, and I think it hurts both situations,” Vanderkaay said. “I consider them completely separate, I don’t look at it as having the Olympic Games in China as supporting their political stance on a lot of issues.”
Catrambone and Vanderkaay said their focus remains on training.
One thing is clear, though: a complete boycott of the games is not an option any athlete wants.
“Those athletes have worked really hard to get to that point,” Vanderkaay said. “A lot of people have dedicated their entire lives to try and get to the Olympics, and for a politician to say that we can’t participate in a certain event, that’s just not fair.”
This isn’t the first time that the host country of the Olympics has faced mounting pressure as the games near. In 1980, then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter protested the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by threatening that the U.S. would boycott the Moscow Olympics if troops hadn’t been pulled out of the country by a certain time. The U.S., along with 61 other countries, didn’t participate in those Olympics, despite being invited.
Four years later, a Soviet-led boycott of the Los Angeles Olympic Games -which many deemed the Soviets’ revenge for the lack of participation in the previous games – spurred 16 countries to sit the contests out.