Confronting the problematic aspects of the Olympics


Allison Markman, Staff Writer

Despite numerous countries’ announcements of a diplomatic boycott, the 2022 Winter Olympics will go off without a hitch — but we cannot allow our excitement for the games blind our better judgment of China’s suitability to host. 

Watched by billions of people, the Winter Games are an opportunity for people to support their country as they attempt to win esteemed gold medals. I love watching my favorite athletes compete, and I admittedly get far too invested in the medal count. My patriotism is never as strong as when I am watching Chloe Kim dominate the halfpipe in snowboarding. There is nothing better than watching an American athlete stepping up onto the highest platform, receiving a gold medal, and having the U.S. national anthem play behind them. 

The Olympic Games may be an opportunity for countries to come together. However, the games fail at being a force for good if they ignore factors that contradict the intention of being a symbol of diplomacy and peace. The games have proven to be problematic as many look past China’s recent human rights abuses, as well as the increasing sentiments of nationalism that have caused countries to employ ruthless tactics to earn medals. 

This year, the Winter Olympics will be hosted in Beijing, China, a controversial choice considering that the country has been accused of committing human rights abuses for its persecution of the Uyghur population. Under China’s President Xi Jinping, China has continually abused Uyghurs, Tibetans, and those who express any independent religion or faith. China has attempted to eliminate negative responses by harrassing human rights activists, feminists, and journalists. To keep civil society in check, the government has expanded surveillance to curtail citizens’ rights to free speech and press. Several governments, including Australia, Canada, Japan, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, and the United States, have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee responded that though they were committed to improving their responsibility on human rights, these new commitments would not apply to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. 

It is not only China’s hosting of the Olympics that should be a concern to the international public, but also a growing sense of nationalism and divisiveness that has grown in the games, undermining its aims at international cooperation. Traditionally, the Olympics are viewed as a means to encourage international relations and collaboration. These sentiments of unity are reflected by the symbols surrounding the games, such as the Olympic rings and the opening ceremony — that symbolize the joining of the five continents. Though the competition has branded itself as an effort towards creating international unity, it is important to acknowledge the nationalism and dangerous practices that have always existed within the games. 

Competitive sentiments have been higher than ever as winning a medal at the Olympics has become a sign of a country’s development and power, prompting countries to go to great lengths to secure them. Performance enhancing drugs are one drastic step countries are taking to ensure peak performance. The Russian Olympic team was banned from the previous Summer Games, and was forced to compete under the name “Russian Olympic Committee.” These extreme measures corrupt the spirit of peace and cooperation, and instead make the event about a fight for prestige. Nationalism has taken prominence during the Olympic Games. This shift in focus minimizes the efforts of the athletes and places the focus on national victory. Although not inherently a negative result, it can be if people’s desire to win overrides the goal of international cooperation, or worse, an athlete’s health. 

Further, the pressure placed on athletes to perform to their highest ability is a challenging obstacle during the games and can lead to injuries. In the 2021 Summer Olympics, fans placed an immense pressure on Simone Biles to compete, though she felt extremely uncomfortable doing so. Rather than being able to showcase all of the training and practice she put into gymnastics, her mental health suffered. The pressure of the events accompanied with other athletic obstacles forced her to withdraw from the competition. In her note announcing her exit from the games, Biles discussed the guilt she felt for letting her country down, but echoed the importance of placing mental health before a medal. As the Olympic Games continue, I hope that Biles’ message resonates and the emphasis of the games is placed on international relations, not solely medal count. 

Nevertheless, The Olympics for many are an opportunity of a lifetime and an event that showcases the outstanding athletic ability from around the world. We cannot allow the few negative aspects of the games to dismiss the years of hard work athletes have put into being their best. Instead, we should examine the implications and effects the games have internationally. As we prepare to watch the upcoming Winter Olympics, we should not disregard China’s despicable human rights abuses nor the problematic practices that occur during the Olympic Games. We must find a balance between supporting our country and favorite athletes, while standing for human rights globally and protecting both the mental and physical health of the athletes.