Olympic committee says no to GOP athlete boycott demands: ‘No diplomatic benefit’

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FIRST ON FOX: The Olympic committee made clear its position on Friday following GOP calls for an athlete boycott in the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, telling lawmakers it has historically made “no diplomatic benefit.”

In a letter exclusively obtained by Fox News Digital, Susanne Lyons, chair of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) board of directors, detailed why the ban would only serve to hurt athletes. 

“An athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to human rights or geopolitical issues,” she wrote. “The USOPC is opposed to athlete boycotts because they have been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues.”

Susanne Lyons, chair and board of director of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, during the USOPC Leadership Conference
(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Lyons pointed to previous athlete bans by both the U.S. and Soviet Union in the 1980s at the height of the Cold War that she said proved ineffective.

In 1980, the U.S. led a multination boycott and barred its athletes from attending the Moscow Summer Olympic Games in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Some 65 nations participated in what would become the largest Olympic boycott to date.

“As a result, 461 American athletes – the balance of them teenagers and college students representing almost every U.S. state – qualified to compete in Moscow only to have the opportunity taken from them,” Lyons said. “Many never had the chance to compete at the Olympic Games again. 

“To make matters worse, their sacrifice had arguably no diplomatic benefit: The Soviet Union stayed in Afghanistan for another decade,” she argued. 

Lyons’ letter was in response to GOP Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who called for an athlete ban in the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses in China. 

Marsha Blackburn and Tom Cotton
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Lawmakers have argued the ban would serve as a statement that the U.S. does not take lightly genocide being committed against the Uyghur populations in Xinjiang, along with other abuses in Tibet, Hong Kong and other parts of China. 

“The Department of State annual Report on Human Rights Practices identified a peak in human rights abuses around the 2008 Olympic Games,” the senators argued in a November letter. 

The State Department reportedly found that the 2008 Summer Games in China prompted abuses like “forced relocations linked to Olympic infrastructure construction,” house arrests for political adversaries, increased civilian surveillance and forced social and political “guardrails” at schools and universities. 

But the USOPC chair argued the Games can raise awareness of an issue.

She instead pointed to another moment in history when a sporting event was used to garner positive attention surrounding a geopolitical issue and has become one of “the most celebrated moments in our nation’s sporting history.”

The Chinese and Olympic flags flutter at the headquarters of the Beijing Organising Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, Nov. 12, 2021. 
(REUTERS/Thomas Suen/File Photo)

The U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union during a tense 1980 Winter Olympic match, just months prior to the summer athlete boycott, when it hit the ice in New York in what would become one of the great upsets in sporting history – known as the “Miracle on Ice.”

“That competition and the American victory inspired our nation and stood as testament to the power of democracy and freedom,” Lyons said. 

But the senators have also argued that athlete safety remains a risk, particularly following the November disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after she accused a government official of sexually assaulting her.

She reappeared a month later in a video denying she ever made the claim. 

Lyons said the USPOC takes athlete safety “seriously” and said it will be working with relevant U.S. agencies to safeguard American athletes. But the lawmakers remain unconvinced.

“The U.S. Olympic Committee’s dismissal of our concerns is a tacit endorsement of communist China’s behavior,” Blackburn told Fox News. “We have no assurances that our athletes will be safe at the 2022 Beijing Olympics and have no reason to believe that the Chinese Communist Party will not leverage their position to weaponize its new digital currency and national security law to target U.S. athletes.”

There have been six Olympic athlete boycotts since the U.S. entered the international games in 1896.

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