Effects on Athletes of Beijing Boycott

Canada’s athletes remain hopeful about participation in the Beijing Olympics. 

The Canadian government is determining whether they should boycott the 2022 Olympic Games. All the opposition parties have called for both a boycott of the games and their relocation of the Games to Canada. Opposition parties in Ottawa have banned together calling for both a boycott of the games, as well as recognizing the mass network of Chinese concentration camps, as a genocide against the Muslim minority population. The recognition of genocide received all party support in the House, but the future of the athletes remains unknown.  

For Laurent Dubreuil and Gilmore Junio, to get the chance to take the stage under the Team Canada banner is a four-year process. Both are professional speedskaters and realistically, this is their last Olympic Games while they are still in their prime. In regards to the boycott, Junio said ,  “It would be a tough pill to swallow. I’m getting up there in regards to my age and I probably wouldn’t go to another Olympics after that.” A boycott would not just be a physical setback for them. As athletes, sponsorship is key to career success and the Olympics are the biggest audition stage for them. “If you’re looking at the Olympics, people know you a lot more,” said Dubreuil. “For us, it’s a matter of visibility and to get sponsors and funding. It’s huge to perform at the Olympics as an athlete.”

The Olympic Games are unlike any other sporting events. Both Junio and Dubreuil have memories of watching their first Olympic Games in 2002 and remember being inspired and motivated to get into their competitive sports after viewing the Games. While hockey and curling have an audience that stretch beyond the Games, for Dubreuil, it was how he was introduced to the sport he fell in love with. “The Olympics are huge for us who sports are not necessarily on TV every day, to see our sport get the highlights on TV. It’s what I remember,” said Dubreuil.

“The Olympics is the greatest stage for sport,” said Junio. “I think as far as the Olympic movement, something that brings the world together…its that one big event that brings people together, shares culture and shows the best of what every country has.” 

A History Of Olympic Boycotts

The effectiveness of a boycott on the Games isn’t clear cut. Dubreil and Junio participated in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games even after there were calls to boycott those Games over Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.  “I don’t think it [the boycotts] accomplished much, to be honest,” commented Dubreuil. “You look at the past, did that really help people? Did that really change the political landscape?” The 1980 boycott, the largest Olympic boycott thus far, was brought about by the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The boycott did not see Soviet troops withdraw, and emboldened them to organize their own boycott four years later.

It’s frustrating for them, being used as bargaining chips around events that they themselves want to compete in, yet have no control if they will or not. “It would be like using the athletes to try to change or make a point, but I don’t think it’s the athlete’s responsibility to bear that,” said Dubreuil.

“It’s definitely a tough situation,” said Junio. “To be on the backseat, just kind of waiting is a hard position but the best that we can do is just prepare as if it’s going to happen. We just have to wait and see,” he added.

“For athletes, world championships come every year, the Olympics is every four years and it’s the one everyone wants to win. Nothing will change that.”

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