Boycotting the Olympics in China is the worst way to help Tibet

Column by Tim Riley

The competition is being called off early this year: The worst idea of the 2008 has already been put into play. No vote will be necessary.

In recent weeks, as the Olympic torch began to move through parts of the United States, large protests broke out wherever it went. Many people took this opportunity to propose this year’s worst idea: The United States should consider boycotting the 2008 Olympics in China.

No matter how one feels about the independence of Tibet, an Olympic boycott would harm many people and would waste an excellent opportunity for a meaningful statement to be made by those who freely choose to do so.

It would not be unprecedented for the United States to refuse to participate in the Olympics. A large contingency of countries refused to attend the 1980 games in Moscow because of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. However, today’s Tibet situation is different from what happened in that instance. The idea of an independent Tibet is not new. China did not recently invade that territory as the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan, and we are not engaged in a Cold War with the Chinese as we were with the Russians. Obviously, though, the mere fact that this situation is different does not immediately disqualify it from having the same reaction.

But history would suggest that a boycott is the last thing a pro-Tibet activist would want. The Olympic Games are an international stage that cannot be matched in any other way — it is the perfect place for statements to be made if people feel strongly about an issue.

No matter how you feel about the Black Power salute that took place after the 200-meter race in the 1968 games, it made a statement much more powerfully than simply not showing up could have. Instead of a few people remembering that few people did not show up to something 40 years ago, everyone remembers that two people used their singular moment in the limelight to stand up for what they believed in.

Even if you perceive China’s treatment of Tibet as an action that makes it a greater threat to other nations, it would still be unwise to boycott the event. In 1936, the Olympics were famously held in Berlin right as Hitler’s Nazi party was building up an armed force that would help bring about World War II. During these games, when Hitler hoped to affirm to the world the superiority of the Aryan race, Jesse Owens, an African-American, captivated the heavily-German crowds while winning four gold medals.

Is it better to sit at home in silence or to take the stage and make your case for the entire world to hear? The great moments of world history have never been made by those who decided to stay home.

All of these points say nothing of the tragedy of denying athletes — who have worked their entire lives for what may be a single chance at glory — their opportunity because of ideas they may not agree with. While the athletes should have the opportunity to make a statement if they so choose, they should not be compelled to do so by any interest other than their own, except under the most grave of circumstances.

There is a time when the beliefs of people in a country on an issue must take precedent over any of their other actions, but this is not that time. If people believe strongly on this issue, it is time they quit supporting the worst idea of the year and start searching for the best.

Tim Riley is a mechanical engineering junior. E-mail opinions@