U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Head Asks Congress Not to Force Beijing Games Boycott

Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), submitted a letter to Congress on Thursday requesting that the U.S. not boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

In the two-page letter, Hirshland said that boycotting the games will only put the athletes set to compete under a "cloud of uncertainty." She specifically addressed lawmakers who believe a boycott of next February's Winter Games is a productive way to protest China's actions toward Uighurs, Tibetans and Hong Kong residents.

While the USOPC stands against China's alleged human rights abuses, Hirshland said boycotting the games only punishes athletes—adding that a boycott would "undermine the core values of the Olympic movement ... an athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to geopolitical issues."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Hirshland offered a history lesson about the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 in protest of the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. That prompted the Soviet Union and several Eastern bloc countries to respond in kind at the Los Angeles Games four years later. More than 450 U.S. athletes who had qualified for Moscow never had a chance to compete in the Olympics.

"To make matters worse, their sacrifice had arguably no diplomatic benefit," Hirshland said. "The Soviet Union stayed in Afghanistan for another decade. ... Both the 1980 and 1984 Games tainted Olympic history and showed the error of using the Olympic Games as a political tool."

Activists, along with some members of Congress, have been pushing for a boycott, or to relocate the games. Last month, the Biden Administration got mixed up in articulating its own policy about a possible boycott; the U.S. State Department suggested an Olympic boycott was possible, but a senior official later had to clarify by saying keeping the U.S. team home had not been discussed.

The choice of whether to boycott would ultimately be up to the USOPC, but political pressure could weigh heavily, especially with Congress becoming more involved in the U.S. Olympic team's operations in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal that led to calls for more oversight and reform.

In her letter, Hirshland argued that the Olympics can be used to raise awareness of human rights issues. But she did not highlight the 1968 Olympics, which were punctuated by protests by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the likes of which the USOPC has said it would not punish going forward. Instead, Hirshland referenced Russia's passage of anti-LGBTQ legislation before the Sochi Games in 2014.

"The Olympic and Paralympic community shone a light on inequality in practice, and the Sochi Games became a turning point in the effort to highlight the contributions and inclusion of LGBTQ+ athletes in global sport," she wrote.

She said the new generation of Winter Olympians were working hard to represent the U.S. next year in Beijing.

"Please give them that chance," she said. "They do not deserve to train for the games under a cloud of uncertainty about American participation in the games."

Sarah Hirshland
US President Donald Trump signs a document pledging federal support to the Olympics as US Olympic & Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland (R) looks on during a briefing with the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee and LA 2028 Organizers in Beverly Hills, California, on February 18, 2020. Hirshland submitted a letter to Congress on Thursday requesting that the U.S. not boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images/Getty Images