Morning Sun

United States dignitarie­s shun Olympics. What about sponsors?


Refusing to send an official U.S. delegation while U.S. athletes compete at the Beijing Olympics is like dropping off dessert at a party you plan to protest by staying away. Your absence might cause a stir at the start, but it will be pretty much ignored by the time people tuck into their pie.

To be sure, refusing to rub elbows with tyrants and assorted swells from the Internatio­nal Olympic Committee is the right thing to do. It’s been done before, and for less. The regime in Beijing is enslaving Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province, crushing dissent in Hong Kong, threatenin­g neighborin­g Taiwan, and been accused most recently of “disappeari­ng” tennis star Peng Shuai after she made a sexual assault allegation against a close ally of President Xi Jinping.

So while the Biden administra­tion’s “diplomatic boycott” is a halfstep at best, it’s also a lot farther than any organizati­on save the Women’s Tennis Associatio­n has gone to hold China accountabl­e for its grave and varied human rights abuses. What remains to be seen is whether any other stakeholde­rs follow their lead.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki made clear Monday that U.S. athletes won’t be involved, perhaps rememberin­g the unpopular decision by then-president Jimmy Carter to support a full-blown boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980.

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support,” she said. “We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributi­ng to the fanfare of the Games. …

“It cannot,” Psaki added a moment later, “be business as usual.”

Yet that’s exactly what the hosts and their IOC lapdogs are counting on.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokespers­on Zhao Lijian accused U.S. politician­s of “purely wishful thinking and grandstand­ing. If the U.S. side is bent on going its own way, China will take firm countermea­sures,” he said, but provided no details on how the Chinese might retaliate.

Most likely, they won’t have to do much. So long as the Games’ mega-sponsors — A-listers such as Coca-cola, Intel, P&G, Toyota and Visa — are willing to continue looking the other way, they won’t have to. That’s where the IOC comes in.

The same IOC that struck a mighty blow against apartheid by withdrawin­g its invitation to South Africa ahead of the 1964 Olympics, and excluding the rogue nation from any Games until 1992, lost its moral compass a long time ago. The people in charge now care only about the Benjamins, or in this case, the Renmibi.

In a statement, the IOC expressed relief “that the participat­ion of the (U.S.) athletes are beyond politics and we welcome this.” It also labeled the move to keep U.S. dignitarie­s away “a purely political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects.”

Please. Just witness the political whitewash IOC President Thomas Bach and his lieutenant Dick Pound attempted two weeks ago, when the question about Peng’s wellbeing roiled the sports world. They claimed the IOC’S experts (who were not named) concluded unanimousl­y on the basis of a video call with Peng (that has not been made public) “that she was fine.”

“She just asked that her privacy be respected for the time being,” Pound said in an interview with CNN. Thankfully, he wasn’t asked for updates on the Uyghurs in prison or the Hong Kong protestors in hiding.

The NBA notably backed down in a 2019 confrontat­ion with Chinese officials after thenhousto­n Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of protestors in Hong Kong. Sponsors, television stations and streaming services there dropped NBA games for months; the league estimated the fallout from Morey’s tweet cost it $400 million.

The NBA is hardly the only big American brand that has been cowed into silence as the price of doing business in China escalates. And it’s not just the Olympic sponsors, either. Starbucks, Apple, Google, Nike and a host of others may find it harder to chart a course forward as already turbulent relations with China head toward even choppier air.

One thing you can be certain of is that none of them will take the path that chief executive Steve Simon chose for the WTA. He ordered tournament­s suspended in China — a move that could cost his organizati­on a cool $1 billion — until he saw proof that Peng “is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidati­on.”

In a separate CNN interview not long after, Simon explained his rationale. All the heads of state and kings of industry contemplat­ing what to do next would choke trying to be half as sincere.

“There are too many times in our world today when we get into issues like this and we let business, politics, money dictate what’s right and what’s wrong,” Simon said. “We have to start, as a world, making decisions that are based on right and wrong, period.”

If only.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States