Mitt Romney wants U.S. athletes to compete in the Beijing Olympics, instead calls for an economic boycott

Utah senator says holding back athletes will silence the voice of America, do little to curtail human rights abuses.

The calls to boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics in protest of human rights abuses have grown louder in recent weeks. Sen. Mitt Romney raised his voice among the chorus Monday.

Rather than join several fellow Republicans in asking the United States to pull its athletes, however, Romney in a column for The New York Times, advocated for “an economic and diplomatic boycott.”

Romney, who served as the CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, said pulling out of the event would only dash the dreams and efforts of the American athletes. Moreover, it wouldn’t work, he said, pointing to the ineffectiveness of the U.S.’s boycott of the 1980 Games held in the Soviet Union.

Not attending the Olympics would also take away the nation’s chance to make a statement about its own beliefs, Romney said.

“The Olympic Games are one of the most enduring demonstrations of the great qualities of the human spirit on the world stage: We witness determination, sacrifice, patriotism, endurance, sportsmanship,” he wrote. “We would also lose the global symbolism of our young American heroes standing atop the medals podium, hand to their hearts, as ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ plays on Chinese soil.”

With less than a year until the 2022 Olympics, China has come under greater scrutiny. Beijing is to become the first city to host both a Summer and a Winter Olympics, considered a plume in China’s hat. But many of the human rights issues that came under fire before the 2008 Summer Games are again drawing attention.

Among them are the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Tibet, which it forcefully took over in 1950, and its treatment of the Uighur Muslim population, which it is accused of subjecting to internment and genocide. More recently, it has begun to crack down on democratic dissent in Hong Kong.

“China deserves our condemnation,” Romney wrote.

Susanne Lyons, the chair of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said it supports the senator and his views on how to handle the Beijing Games.

“Mitt Romney is very knowledgeable about this,” she said during a press call last week.

In lieu of the athlete boycott, Romney suggested political envoys, businesses and fans forego attending the Games and limit China’s economic gains from hosting.

“Rather than send the traditional delegation of diplomats and White House officials to Beijing,” he wrote, “the president should invite Chinese dissidents, religious leaders and ethnic minorities to represent us.”

Romney called on NBC, which broadcasts the Olympics in the U.S., to be selective about the images it shows so as not to spotlight “jingoistic elements.” And he suggested talks with the International Olympic Committee about how human rights abuses play into its selection process are in order.

“Let us demonstrate our repudiation of China’s abuses in a way that will hurt the Chinese Communist Party,” he wrote, “rather than our American athletes.”

The U.S. Olympic committee has stated the organization does not support a full boycott of the Olympics, but the decision will ultimately be up to President Joe Biden. On Feb. 25, Biden’s press secretary said, “There hasn’t been a final decision made on that.”