Sean Coleman, long-time reader of normblog (and sender of useful links), has recently started his own blog, Epics and Chronicles. The post currently at the top of his front page will take you to a piece he's written for the Irish Times, arguing for Ireland to boycott the Beijing Olympics. Sean's conclusion:
This summer's games will be a lavish affair, as befits an event announcing China's international pre-eminence. Yet by participating, Ireland will bestow upon the Chinese government an international legitimacy that it does not deserve. China's own human rights deficiencies have been matched by its uncritical patronage of the world's worst regimes. The Beijing Olympics risks becoming merely a propaganda coup, with sport employed as political pageantry, obscuring the more unsavoury realities of China's global power. Ireland should honour its stated commitment to human rights, and decline to be part of the spectacle.I haven't really thought about this question before today, and I may want to change my mind after thinking about it some more and considering further arguments; but, provisionally, I don't favour a boycott. My reasons are different ones than those that have led me to oppose an academic boycott of Israel. Considerations of academic freedom obviously don't apply here, and boycotting the Beijing games doesn't punish, or seek to punish, Chinese athletes for the policies of their government; they would be free to participate were the 2008 Olympics to be held somewhere else. It's also not a case of 'singling out' China for unfavourable treatment amongst other regimes with bad human rights records. On the contrary, the argument for a boycott is implicitly based, I assume, on the thought that, by being chosen to host the 2008 event, China has in fact been singled out (from amongst other countries with much better human rights records) - but singled out for specially favourable treatment, since the Olympics bring with them a form of prestige and this can be used by the regime for internal and external political advantage.
My reservation about a national boycott such as Sean proposes for Ireland is that it does punish the athletes of one country - or of a few countries if there were to be more than one boycotting the games; it punishes, not Chinese athletes, but Irish ones (or whoever). This is an opportunity that comes round for individual participants only once in four years and a very few times over a whole career. It is hard to see why they should be made answerable, in a manner of speaking, for the human rights record of the Beijing regime. It's quite another thing for an athlete to decide on his or her own account, and for reasons of moral principle, not to compete in the event.
On the other hand, for athletes and nations to participate in the Beijing Olympics and use whatever opportunities are open to them to make statements of political criticism of the Chinese government's policies - as suggested by Reporters Without Borders - would be very much to the point.