Category Archives: Beijing Olympics

US Diplomatic Boycott Of Winter Olympics Looks Like A ‘So What?’

THE ‘RESOLUTE COUNTERMEASURES’ that Bejing promised to take against the now-announced diplomatic boycott of the Bejing Winter Olympic games by the United States may be just to ignore it.

On Monday, the Biden administration announced that US diplomats would not attend the Games, to be held in February, because of its concerns about China’s human rights record.

US athletes will be free to participate.

Beijing has already banned foreign spectators on public health grounds. The Omicron variant of COVID-19 will create complications in managing the Games and provide convenient cover for any further restrictions if determined politically necessary.

There will be little blowback in the United States for the administration’s decision. Supporting Beijing by attending the Games would be unpopular. If anything, criticism in the United States has been of the administration not imposing a complete boycott.

Similarly, any tit for tat snubs by China will do the administration no harm domestically. It is anyway unlikely that Beijing would ban athletes from boycotting countries.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, responding to a question about the potential for a US diplomatic boycott, trotted out the standard line about not politicising sport, adding that ‘no one cared‘ if US politicians, who were not being invited anyway, came or not. (Technically, invitations to attend the games come from the International Olympic Committee, not the host nation, but we will let that pass.)

The question is whether other Western governments will follow Washington’s lead and downgrade or scrap their official attendance. The United Kingdom and Australia would be the most likely candidates.

A more acid test of US sentiment will be if the extent to which the Games are watched in the United States and whether US multinationals scale back their commercial support for the games, either directly on via advertising and sponsorship of US coverage.

A straw in the wind: in its online news report of the diplomatic boycott, NBC, the US broadcaster with the rights to the Games, embedded a link on how to ‘Watch all the action from the Beijing Olympics live on NBC‘.

Update: Australia says it will join the diplomatic boycott. New Zealand says it will not be sending an official delegation for Covid-19 reasons. France says Europe will respond at an EU level, adding that the EU already sanctions China over Xinjiang. The United Kingdom is sitting on the fence.

Update to the update: The United Kingdom and Canada have now joined the diplomatic boycott.


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IOC To Retest All Beijing Olympic Doping Samples

The International Olympic Committee is taking the unprecedented step of retesting all 5,000 doping samples taken during the Beijing Olympics. It is looking for a new blood boosting drug recently detected during testing in cycling’s Tour de France.

The IOC disqualified six athletes for doping during the Beijing Games  — Ukrainian heptathlete Lyudmila Blonska, Ukrainian weightlifter Igor Razoronov, Greek hurdler Fani Halkia, North Korean shooter Kim Jong Su, Spanish cyclist Isabel Moreno and Vietnamese gymnast Thi Ngan Thuong Do. Three other cases are still pending.

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Olympic Gold Medals: Its All About The Economics

The Games are over. Beijing and the rest of China now faces the inevitable post-party hangover.

It was certainly quite a show both on and off the track. China got its craved for position atop the gold medals table, but the U.S. won the most medals overall, so both countries can claim to be No. 1 as they return to their more usual bilateral fare — trade, product safety, yuan revaluation, market access, human rights, &c.

Yet for all Project 119 on the one side, and Michael Phelps and the Redeem Team on the other, medal counts all come down to economics: “Statistical modeling shows that population size and income per head provide an almost faultless method for identifying medal totals”, writes U.K. academic Stefan Szymanski in “The Market for Olympic Gold Medals” (free abstract here). U.S. academics Gary Becker and Richard Posner summarize the arguments in “Determinants of the Olympic Success of Different Countries“. There is a good summary of the literature on the subject at Economic Logic. And an ingenious way of looking at the same factors through the opposite end of the telescope at YouCalc’s Real Olympic Medal Count.

So it makes sense that China’s increasing medal tally over the past four Olympics follows its growing wealth, while the U.S. is in relative decline. Its 11% share of all medals is its smallest going all the way back to 1952 when it won 17% of the medals.

Szymanski tells Forbes that he expects China’s medal total will drop at the next Olympics, because that it what always happens to host nations the Olympics after. Greece’s 26 medals in Athens as followed by just 4 in Beijing. He also makes an interesting point about how globalization is spreading not just wealth but also Olympic medals. A record 81 different countries won medals in Beijing. As Mihir Bose at the BBC notes, three won medals for the first time in Beijing, and three more won their first individual medals.

Even if you pretend you can keep the politics out of the Games, you can’t keep the economics away.

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Chasing Gold

Following the gold medal table at the Beijing Games is rather like watching a middle distance race in which the front runner has taken a big early lead, but in which his main rival is now chasing him down. Can he hold on for victory? Or will he be pipped at the tape?

China’s lead in the gold medal tally is substantial, but that is because, swimming apart, the early schedule favored its better sports. But the United States is starting to cut back the lead now the track and field events, or the athletics, depending on whose English you speak, are underway.

The prize, of course, is more than mere sporting bragging rights, but we don’t need to rehearse the geopolitical rivalry discussions here.

Those who follow such things tell this Bystander that the U.S. is likely to end up with 45-47 golds and China with 44-46 come Sunday’s final event (boxing). That’s a photo finish in prospect. Liu Xiang’s hamstring, the U.S. 4x100m relay team’s butterfingers or some other disaster or triumph yet to come could be the difference.

Could it even be a dead heat?

Update: Final tally: China 51 golds; U.S. 36. So much for the form experts. Remind me never to back their racing tips.

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Protesters Limp Out Of The Olympics

Before the Games, the authorities said that protests would be permitted in three Beijing parks. How many have been allowed to take place? None, according to Xinhua. It says of the 77 applications received by Beijing’s public security bureau, 74 were withdrawn, two were suspended, and one was vetoed.  The majority of the withdrawn applications, Xinhua says, were because the problems they raised — work, health and welfare issues — could be better dealt with by “relevant authorities or departments through consultation”. The vetoed application was turned down because it violated the law on demonstrations and protests.

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Americans Think Better Of The Beijing Olympics

Now the Olympic Games are underway, Americans are feeling better disposed towards Beijing staging them, according to a new Pew survey.

The number saying it was a “bad decision” to hold the Olympics in China has fallen to 31%, down from 43% when Pew asked the same question in April. That was in the aftermath of the crackdown in Lhasa, when Americans were the most disapproving of the 23 nations surveyed.

The new Pew survey also shows that the share of Americans saying it as a good decision to hold the Games in Beijing has risen by 11 percentage points to 52%.

The unasked question, though, is this change of heart due more to U.S. swimming superstar Michael Phelps than any reappraisal of Sino-American relations? This Bystander rather suspects it is.

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Trying Too Hard

Underage gymnasts. A lip-syncing child singer. Computer generated fireworks. Beijing is just trying too hard to micromanage a successful games. And it is taking the gloss off the real achievements.

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Kuqa Bombings Update

Xinhua has published details of the early Sunday morning attacks in Kuqa in Xinjiang, which the agency says left eight dead — seven of whom were attackers — in a dozen bombings.

The largest attack seems to have been a suicide truck bombing of the public security bureau. Two civilians, a security guard and two of the attackers were killed, Xinhua says. A third attacker was captured. Five more attackers died in a firefight in a nearby market. Xinhua says the captured attacker said 15 people were involved in the attacks, which implies seven escaped.

Though the bombs appear to have been crude homemade ones, it is still remarkable that such attacks should have been able to have been launched given the stepped up security in the region since the killing of 16 armed police at a border post last week, and the sweeping up of any suspected pockets of resistance in the months leading up to the Olympic games. But the militants who had previously threatened to attack buses, trains and planes during the two-weeks of the Games still don’t seem to have been able to extend their operations outside Xinjiang.

Wang Wei, vice president of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, called the attacks the work of “East Turkestan terrorists” the appellation applied to Uighur separatists. Wang said no government would tolerate such violence.

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More Uighur-linked Violence In Xinjiang

Reports from Kuqa in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of early morning explosions and gunfire. Xinhua in a dispatch that speaks of “several” explosions says the area has been sealed off. No reports of casualties yet, or much else by way of detail come to that. Last week 16 armed police were killed in an attack on a border post in the province, for which two Uighurs were detained. First speculation inevitably is that these latest incidents may be more of the same. China regards Uighur separatists as one of the main security threats at the Beijing Olympics. It has cracked down on them in the months leading up to the games, and certainly won’t want this background noise now the Games are underway.

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What Did The Opening Ceremony Say About China?

Stunning opening ceremony for the Games, as expected. Seven years in the planning and $40 million spent according to some reports. Perhaps more. Director Zang Yimou told Xinhua that the budget for the opening and closing ceremonies of both the Olympics and the Paralympics would not exceed that of the Doha Asian Games Opening ceremony alone. That reportedly cost $180 million.

Was this Bystander the only one to be struck by how long the pageant was on history but short on modern China? What does that say about what China wanted to tell the world about itself at its great coming out?

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