Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pointless Sanction

Boycotting an Athlete’s Future

By Judit Trunkos

It’s been widely reported that protesters and some world leaders have called for a boycott of the Olympics in China.

What would happen to the athletes who spent four years training twice a day, competing and focusing on Olympic pre-qualifying events, only to learn less than four months before the event that politicians decided to boycott the Olympic Games?  While currently there is only talk about skipping the opening reception, current affairs can be very unstable. Some worry that that could easily turn into a country—perhaps even the U.S.—boycotting the whole event.

“That is pretty much the end of the world for an athlete,” says former Gamecock swimmer and three-time Hungarian Olympian, Istvan Bathazi.  “I know athletes who could not go to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics because, due to pressure from the rest of eastern block, the Hungarian Government decided to boycott the event. As a result, they became so angry and disillusioned that they quit swimming completely. The fact that with the qualifying time they would have been medallists only added to their frustration.”

The Olympics is a traditionally non-political event that originated in Greece in 776 BC, at a time when Greece was one of the leading empires and its city states were often at war with one another. The Olympics, however, were held every four years despite wars. We all learned in history classes how if Greece was at war, they would stop fighting for the period of the completion of the Olympic Games. Therefore, traditionally, they kept politics away from the games to send a message: Olympics should not carry political or military messages.

Let’s see where we are today. Despite the survival of the Olympic tradition, the idea of a non-political event seems to wither away when nations decide to use it to send political messages to each other by boycotting part of the games or the whole event.  So what happens if a country like the U.S. does not show up at the Olympics? It could put some diplomatic pressure on the allies to do likewise. Who benefits from that?  No one really, other than maybe those athletes who were close to qualifying but in the end ended up as alternates for their countries.

The truth is that as soon as the Olympics are over, no one will talk about the countries that were not there; people will only talk about the countries that were present. So even if a significant message was sent to the host, in this case to China, there is not much impact on the world or on the hosting country.  The only impact is on the athletes, who prepared for four years for the opportunity to participate in the world’s most traditional athletic event, athletes that will only have a chance to qualify once, maybe twice during their entire athletic carrier.

Allison Brennan, a former Gamecock swimmer, who has been training for the Olympic Games in China believes no real good would come of a U.S. boycott.

“The U.S. boycotting the Olympic Games would serve no purpose,” Brennan told City Paper. â€œAthletes have worked many years to have the individual opportunity to compete in the greatest international competition. The only people that suffer by boycotting the Olympic Games are the athletes.”

The bottom line is that, traditionally, sports and politics were kept separate and that is how it should be today. As a leading international power, the United States has many effective political and economic ways to communicate its disapproval with China’s violence in Tibet and its lack of pressure on Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur. Why punish your athletes with a boycott?

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