Utah Sen. Mitt Romney wants U.S. athletes at the Olympics, pushes for a ‘diplomatic boycott’ of the Beijing games instead

President Biden on Thursday said the boycott is “something we’re considering” to address human rights issues

(Mark Schiefelbein | AP) Visitors take photos of a statue of figure skaters with the Olympic rings at a park near the headquarters of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) in Beijing, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. President Joe Biden said this week that his administration is considering a diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympics.

Olympic athletes from the United States will likely be going to the 2022 Beijing Games in February. But government officials may not.

President Joe Biden on Thursday said a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Games is “something we’re considering” as a way of condemning China’s human rights violations.

The boycott treads a thin line of trying to make a stand against such issues as the treatment of Uyghurs and political crackdowns in Tibet and Hong Kong while also allowing American athletes an opportunity to compete.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has said it does not support a full boycott of the 2022 Games, one of the options on the table, but that it would support a diplomatic one. Senator Mitt Romney also has been a proponent of holding back government officials from China. Recently he was part of a group of senators who added an amendment that mandates a diplomatic boycott to the National Defense Authorization Act that is currently being considered by the Senate.

“In authoritarian states like China, the Olympics has more often been a tool of propaganda than a lever of reform,” he told The Tribune in a statement Thursday. “It is unacceptable for China to have the honor of hosting the Olympics while the Chinese Communist Party commits genocide against the Uyghur people.”

Twenty years ago, Romney played a key role in ensuring countries felt safe sending their athletes to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Olympics following the 9/11 bombings.

Utah is again looking to host a Winter Games, perhaps as early as 2030. A group from the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games was expected to attend the Beijing Olympics as it gathers information for its upcoming bid. As the terms of the boycott are unknown, it is unclear whether it would affect that mission.

The Olympics were not discussed Monday in the three-and-a-half-hour virtual meeting between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, according to reports. A White House readout of the meeting said Biden did bring up human rights issues.

“President Biden raised concerns about the [People’s Republic of China’s] practices in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as human rights more broadly,” according to the readout.

Romney said the White House needs to act quickly in barring government officials from attending the Games.

“With the Games starting in just three months, I hope the Administration does not wait a moment longer to send a strong message to the CCP, while safeguarding the dreams and hard work of U.S. athletes,” he told The Tribune. “Our national anthem should be played in Beijing.”