Talk of using the upcoming Winter Olympics to protest against China’s mistreatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province has been gathering momentum.
A boycott of the games by diplomats only, has been mentioned, while others have proposed it should include the athletes themselves, corporate sponsors and even US spectators.
I do not think it is fair to the athletes.
They have been working very hard to have a chance to display their talents, invested enormously in polishing their abilities, to now have this one moment before the entire world.
The competition is fierce and only the very gifted and hard working get a chance to compete or earn a medal.
To now deprive them of their chance to shine seems absurd.
Politics should not be imposed on them.
Our government has a variety of means to make their case against China’s violations and their authoritarian rule.
But for the athletes, this is their one moment before a world audience. And it should not be blocked.
I propose we offer the athletes an option to join in solidarity with Uyghurs. A hand sign they could flash at any time, entirely at their discretion, under no compulsion whatsoever: during the opening and closing ceremonies, after a performance or whenever they saw fit.
If they want to do it, fine, if not, that’s okay. It is their moment, and it is up to them.
At a time when they are flush with the unique excitement of participating in such privileged spectacle, to show support for other human beings who are being trampled by Chinese authorities may appeal to many athletes.
But it should be entirely up to each individual, to share a moment of their triumph on behalf of those who will never have such chances because their government impedes it.
The sign I propose would be the letter U for Uyghur, made by holding up both hands, side by side, palms facing front, the ends of the thumbs apposed to form the base of the letter, with the adjoining index fingers upright to complete the U, and the rest of the fingers curled in both hands.
To urge an authoritarian country to cease the mistreatment of part of their population should not involve an act where other human beings are deprived, by governmental decree, of their own chance at displaying excellence.
The last American boycott took place in 1980 to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter was president. Did it make any difference? Not on the Soviets or the Afghans. But it did deprive American athletes of a special moment in their lives. Let that one boycott be the last.
Oscar Valdes. Oscarvaldes.net. Available in achor.fm, apple podcasts and buzzsprout.