Almanac Olympics: Winter Olympic Boycott


          The Winter Olympics were first held in 1924, at Chamonix, France.  Generally, they seem to have escaped the political conflicts so much a feature of the Summer Olympics, however 2022 in Beijing is shaping up as being a political, diplomatic challenge.


Though the 2022 Winter Olympics are not commencing until February 4 a proposed diplomatic boycott is going to feature. The United States of America (USA)  has directed its diplomats to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Australia possibly set a Winter Olympics record by very quickly falling in line behind them. A few other nations have now joined this. How many more nations line up behind the USA remains to be seen.


Boycotts in the Winter Olympics are rare, with only one example coming to mind.  In 1980 there was a boycott of the Winter Olympics. It also involved China. To help understand why this occurred it’s important to remember the history of China, why it is, how it is.



China for many years was a feudal  backwater, in many ways the ‘poor man’ of Asia ruled by despotic warlords clinging to a past that had long moved on. In the early 20th century, the  Kuomintang overthrew the old Qing dynasty promising a new, modern China. However, they ended up as corrupt as those who preceded them, aligning themselves with many of the old feudal warlords despite originally aiming to dispose of this ilk. To bring an end to the backwardness, and corruption, progressive forces led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) challenged them, seeking a modern way forward bringing China out of its stifling past. China found itself amid a bloody, civil war.


Compounding the situation, a brutal Japanese invasion, & occupation, from 1931 until 1945, saw a possible 10 million deaths.  Once the Japanese invaders were removed, the conclusion of the lengthy Civil War saw the progressive forces led by the CPC liberate China.  On October 1, 1949,  the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was proclaimed.


It subsequently became known as ‘Communist China,’ or ‘Red China’  as they set about bringing China into the 20th century. The Kuomintang, and their supporters withdrew to the Island of Taiwan, where they considered themselves as the ‘legitimate’ Chinese government .  On the mainland the PRC developed China as a socialist society (not what it is now!). Since 1971 the PRC has been recognised by the United Nations as the legitimate Chinese government.


From the early 1950’s Taiwan competed in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, as the Republic Of China (ROC), portraying themselves as the legitimate Chinese team.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted them whilst the PRC set its focus on modernising China. For nigh on three decades the Taiwanese team was portrayed as the ‘official ‘Chinese term, reflecting the Cold War tensions of the time.


The PRC boycotted all Olympic activity from 1956 until 1980 due to the presence of Taiwan. Melbourne in 1956 was the first of the Olympic  games they boycotted. It is worth adding during this period the IOC considered Taiwan ‘s ROC as the legitimate representative of the Chinese people. The PRC have never considered Taiwan as a legitimate state, far less do they consider them as representative of China.


The 1980 Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid situated in the USA’s New York state. The IOC sought both nations compete in Lake Placid with the rider Taiwan desist from using the term, Republic Of China.  The IOC authorised the PRC to compete as China, complete with the official Chinese flag. This was the first time the PRC competed.  Their presence as the PRC posed an obvious dilemma with Taiwan aiming to compete as the ROC, contrary to the existence of the PRC. None the less Taiwan considered themselves the legitimate Chinese Republic, with support provided from nations aligned with the USA.


The IOC subsequently designated Taiwan as Chinese Taipei, with a distinctive flag, and national anthem. Taiwan refused to accept it, thus when their team arrived at the Olympic Village claiming they were from the Republic of China they were refused entry. The Taiwanese team left in protest, prior to the opening of the event. Subsequently they did not participate in either the 1980  Summer, or Winter Olympics. When they returned to Sarajevo for the 1984 Winter Olympics they participated as Chinese Taipei under the flag/anthem of their own National Olympic Committee. That stands to this day.


Though the PRC had 24 athletes performing in Lake Placid, none were able to obtain a medal. The first PRC medal at a Winter Olympics was silver in Albertville in 1992. Gold at the Winter Olympics eluded the PRC until Salt Lake in 2002. They now have total of 62 medals including 13 gold.


To my understanding Taiwan, be they called the Republic of China, or Chinese Taipei, remain maidens in the Winter Olympics medal stakes with not a medal of any colour to their name. They have fared better in the Summer games, with 36 medals including 7 golds. The first Olympic medal being a silver in the men’s decathlon at Rome 1960, the first gold arriving at Athens in 2004.


How successful will be the impact of this proposed diplomatic boycott? The best thing I can say is that the athletes won’t be used, injured, as pawns in a political game. If we are talking boycotts and 1980, it’s interesting noting of the 466 athletes from the USA who could not compete in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, 23 sued the US Olympic committee for their disadvantage. Not one of their cases succeeded. A side note to the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics was that the USA government used world champion boxer Muhamad Ali to travel to African nations hoping to whip up support for the boycott. Ali quickly changed his mind on the boycott, then returned home.


Who knows how the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will play out? We live in interesting times. The future is unwritten.




More from Glen can be read Here


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  1. Thoughtful piece as always Glen. Very fair and balanced.
    The diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China is tokenistic window dressing. But perhaps that’s the bonus – as you say athletes and competitions won’t be affected.
    I’ve thought a lot lately about politics in sport given the Peng Shaui situation and the Khashoggi assassination by the Saudis and their entry into golf and EPL via Newcastle United purchase. Let alone the widespread discrimination against ethnic minorities and gays around the world. All as the US slides towards becoming an authoritarian state under a reasserted Trump power base at all levels of government and media.
    The West is ruled by money the rest by guns.
    I’ve become an advocate of sport staying entirely away from politics because there are no good guys. Just greater or lesser thugs. Moral equivalence.

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