Beijing Olympics: to Protest or Not to Protest

Dusan VuksanovicCorrespondent IMay 5, 2008

With less than 100 days before the Beijing Olympics begin, many wonder whether or not US athletes should protest China’s poor human rights records in Tibet, Burma/Myanmar, and Darfur.


Though the issue of “to protest or not to protest” can be argued from both sides, my opinion is that we should not protest, and I hold this opinion for three reasons.


The first and foremost reason is that the Olympic Charter’s Rule 51 states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues, or other areas.”


Not respecting this rule may result in disqualification from further competition, according to the by-laws set forth in the Charter. I would hate to see people removed from the Games in such an unsportsmanlike way.


Of course, it will be up to the athletes to decide if they want to adhere to this rule or not. But one needs to realize that the rule has been enforced at prior Olympics, so there is no reason to think that the Beijing Olympics will be any different.


In 1968 United States’ runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos were banned from further competition at the Games after raising black-gloved fists and bowing their heads during the 200-meter medal ceremony. This was an act of protest against the oppression of African Americans.

The most recent example of political propaganda disqualification came in March 2008 with Milorad Cavic, a swimmer from Serbia.


Cavic was disqualified for wearing a T-shirt that said “Kosovo is Serbia” on the medal podium after winning the gold medal in 50-meter butterfly at European Championship in Eindhoven, Holland. The T-shirt alluded to Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, an act that a majority of the Serbian population considers illegal.

Though Cavic’s removal from the competition was affiliated with the European Swimming League (LEN) and not the International Olympic Committee, the example proves that international sports federations are determined to detach politics from sports.

The second reason concerns the potential economic consequences that a protest against the Chinese government might bring to the US.


The Chinese are well aware that the US owes them approximately $2 trillion. They also know that the US imports more products from them than from any other country in the world, accounting for $321.5 billion.


Finally, China knows that economy is currently the United States’ “Achilles' heel,” as the dollar declines and the price of gas soars in international markets.

Taking into consideration these facts, and noting that the Chinese posses great respect for their nation and their government, it is my guess that the economic relations between the two countries will be the first to suffer if the Chinese become upset with the United States.


And, at this moment, economic stability is a major concern for America.

Finally, the third reason is the fact that there are other ways for athletes to protest China’s poor human rights performance.


Take the 1936 Jesse Owens story as an example. Instead of openly demonstrating against the German regime at the time, Owens simply went to Berlin, won four gold medals, broke three Olympic records in the process, and proved the Nazi ideology wrong through his athletic endeavors.


Why can’t these same endeavors, which define what the Olympics are all about, be used in Beijing to prove a point about human rights?

Moreover, at other times when politics were openly protested through sports it ruined the spirit of the Games, especially during the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. It shattered the dreams of many Olympians who wanted to take part in the competition.


I highly doubt that any athlete or any country benefited from not sending their finest men and women to represent their people (not regimes or political ideologies) in the best way possible. 

Being an Olympian is a job that has many responsibilities. Aside from making sure that his or her country is represented at its finest, an Olympian also needs to respect the Olympic Charter.

In addition, an Olympian needs to be aware that his or her actions might backfire—on him or herself, or on the nation.

Finally, an Olympian’s best arguments lie in his or her physical and mental fitness—not in political opinions.

Therefore, I hold that protesting against the Chinese human rights record at the Beijing Games will not result in any good for anybody—not for the US Olympians, nor for the people they represent.