On Feb 9, 2018, the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, will officially be underway. Like most Olympic Games, the festivities will start with an extravagant opening ceremony, followed by what should be a glorious celebration of the unifying effect of global athletic competition and sportsmanship.
However, this particular games is already marred in controversy. The IOC is under the scrutiny of the press and public for its continuous corruption allegations, Russia (the nation, not all of the athletes) is barred from competition due to a state sanctioned doping program, and lastly and most importantly, with the ongoing drama developing between two grown men with nuclear weapons and the diplomatic skills of small children, some are wondering whether or not the United States should withdraw from the games. And most of that concern has to do with the behavior of the president. So this is a hypothetical on my part, but should the U.S.–or at least its athletes–consider this drastic move?
In December, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley went on FOX News and suggested that it would be imperative to monitor the daily actions of North Korea and if necessary withdraw U.S. athletes from the games. Haley’s comments were met with plenty of backlash, the opposing sentiment being that we should not let the actions of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sway whether or not we attend the games.
While security is always a top priority at the Olympics there have been terrorist attacks in the past, most significantly the 1972 Summer Games in Munich where 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by terrorists and the 1996 bombing at the Summer Games in Atlanta that killed two people. While targeted terrorist attacks have occurred, although rarely, it would be unprecedented for an actual country to strike out aggressively at the Games.
The likelihood of North Korea actually moving forward with a military strike while the games are taking place is pretty absurd. It was recently announced that North Korea will be sending both athletes and diplomats to the games and will also be opening up communications about solutions to the ongoing military tension with South Korea. This type of diplomacy between the two nations is rare.
While military action during the games is almost a non-issue with the recent meeting between the North and South, the ongoing lack of diplomacy shown by our current president is almost certain to continue throughout the games. Recently, a bizarre back and forth between Trump and Kim Jong-un transpired on Twitter. Jong-un tweeted about having a nuclear button installed on his desk, and in typical fashion, Trump tweeted back that his button was bigger, in what played out like a pre-teen social media feud.
The Olympic Games should be an opportunity for U.S. athletes to share the stage with our global community as goodwill ambassadors for America’s foreign interests and policy. However, given Trump’s continued Twitter outbursts it seems more likely that the Olympics will provide another opportunity for him to embarrass athletes that have dedicated their lives to performing on the world stage.
One can only imagine what Trump will choose to brag about (“Our halfpipes are the biggest and most-best halfpipes in the world. North Korea’s are, ‘tiny, little insufficient halfpipes.”) The idea that he would take any attention away from the accomplishments of our athletes and possibly put them in danger is real. Given his flare for Twitter dramatics, would it be the slightest bit surprising?
U.S. athletes are not in imminent danger in regards to military strikes. They shouldn’t withdraw from the Games due to that fear alone. But every U.S. athlete needs to understand what they represent while competing in the games and what kind of power that representation gives them and what kind of collective power they have.
It would be a long shot for U.S. athletes to boycott the games over the behavior of a president (even individually, they’ve put in too much). But it would certainly be a powerful message for the world that while we might be proud to represent our country, we’re not implicit in disastrous foreign policy and rhetoric. I hope our countrymen and women use the Games as an opportunity to show that Americans want global peace and prosperity.
So, am I too far off in asking if American athletes should boycott the games? It’s definitely a question worth asking.