Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Chart of the Day
7 December 2021

How big could the Olympic boycott get?

The US diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing would be the first Olympics snub since 1988.

By Ben van der Merwe

The Biden administration has announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics, to be held in Beijing in February.

US athletes will still compete in the games, but there will be no official government delegation. The White House has described the boycott as a reaction to China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

There has not been a full-blown Olympic boycott since 1988, and the US announcement seems unlikely to spark one. Though the governments of Australia, Canada and the UK are reported to be considering a similar diplomatic boycott, no government has yet hinted at an athletic or commercial boycott of the games.

The lack of a concerted boycott effort is a sign that, despite rising geopolitical tensions, international divisions are far less clear-cut than during the Cold War.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

At the height of that, a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics saw 66 countries refuse to send athletes in protest at the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. With the exception of Iran and Albania, all were US allies. The subsequent 1984 games in Los Angeles were boycotted by 18 countries, all of them allies of the USSR – again with the exception of Iran and Albania.

By contrast, relatively few countries today are exclusively committed to relations with either the US or China. At the time of the 1980 Olympics, the USSR accounted for just 3 per cent of global imports, compared to China’s 10 per cent share as of 2020, according to UN Comtrade data.

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up

China accounts for more than 15 per cent of exports for 25 countries, including key US allies such as Australia (39 per cent), Brazil (32 per cent), South Korea (26 per cent) and Japan (20 per cent).

Topics in this article: ,