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Why Business Shouldn't Boycott the Olympics

Posted by: Diane Brady on March 20, 2008

As the turmoil in Tibet rages on, calls to boycott the Beijing Olympics have mounted. Beijing, of course, says it’s business as usual. The question is what other governments will do and, equally important, what the wide range of sponsors and hangers on will do.

On a personal level, I’m against a boycott of the Olympics. To me, the event is a celebration of individual achievement and the global village — a chance for young athletes to come together and compete against the best that the world has to offer. For many, it’s the only chance they’ve got. Politics is the ever-shifting backdrop. Jesse Owens’ gold medal in the 1936 Olympics is all the more memorable because he won it in Nazi Germany.

For business, a boycott would be destructive and hypocritical. Many companies are already tripping over each other to woo China’s 1.3 billion consumers. They are engaged in joint ventures that have them manufacturing equipment, selling services and otherwise actively doing business within the country. They rely on imports from China or may be exporting to there, too.

Many also point to signs of growing liberalization within China as the Communist regime seeks more affluence for its people and a larger role in the world economy. Are there still egregious affronts to individual liberty and other serious concerns about doing business there? Sure. I wasn’t exactly singing China’s praises as I packed up several Thomas trains this year for yet another lead paint recall. But engagement is a stronger catalyst for change than boycotts.

Reader Comments


March 20, 2008 12:19 PM

When I asked the folks at GE about their views on the subject, here's what their spokeswoman had to say:
"GE is proud to be a sponsor of the Olympic Games. We believe the spirit of the Games and the global attention they bring can have many positive influences beyond the sports arena. The Olympic Games are a forum that is intended to be free of conflict and political engagement – a chance to celebrate the best in sports and humanity."


March 21, 2008 3:46 AM

The west's hypocricy is truly amazing and boundless. Boyscott Beijing for Tibetan mobs mercilessly killing 13 innocent Chinese, including 5 girls burned alive!? Or just boyscott whatever because it is China?
Then don't come to China! Beijing should really invite only true friends for a party.


March 23, 2008 11:54 AM

Diane, of course we should boycott the Beijing Olympics. You say this event is, "celebration of individual achievement and the global village." Look at what China has done to it's own citizens, and the citizens of Tibet. Do you think communist China celebrates "individual achievement?" Hell no. They bash it down with a hammer. China doesn't give a damn about the "global village." If they did, they would wake up and realize the rest of the world is angry with China for it's appalling record of human rights violations. Did you know that the simple act of owning a Tibet flag is ILLEGAL in China? China doesn't give a wet slap about individual achievement or the global village. How can you be so blind?


March 23, 2008 3:22 PM

YinduAsan - How did you knw 13 chinese were killed by Tibetans? That's your own statement. On the other had Tibetan's are saying 100 Tibetans are dead. Who is right ?
China has not allowed any foreign media to enter Tibet. It's banning all the live telecast from there as well. Why? Is this not cowrdice on part of China to suppress the truth? If in fact China is at the receiving end, foreign media and human righ commission would have found out it if they were being allowed to go there.
By the way Tibet belongs to Tibetans. What these chinese people are doing there?
Its a shame olympics is given to China. I think it's due to pressure from the sponsers like GE,Cocacola etc who have bribed the olympic officals.


March 24, 2008 7:43 AM

"The west's hypocricy is truly amazing and boundless. Boyscott (sic) Beijing for Tibetan mobs mercilessly killing 13 innocent Chinese, including 5 girls burned alive!?"

I was pretty sure that the BBC had the number at 10 and CNN at 15. Reuters had something else and AP was different still. So how many were actually killed and according to whom? Also, there's no record of anybody being buried alive anywhere so I wonder where that rumor was born and why it's being used to support an unsupportable stance? China has been the hypocritical party for the last decade. They talk about openness, transparency, free trade and freedom for its people, but they mercilessly arrest anyone who doesn't agree with the government, block internet sites which contain anything The Party doesn't like and uses its artificially undervalued currency and protectionist measures to enjoy an unfair export advantage. Then, the Chinese spokespeople accuse westerners of everything under then sun should they note that China's not playing fair but demands that everyone else does.

But to the question at hand.

Boycotting the Olympics won't accomplish anything. Beijing doesn't care that someone won't show up because just like in the Soviet Union (a place I know firsthand), The Party's ideology is a religion in its own right and those who disagree with it are seen simply as heretics. All a boycott would do is to make China dig in its heal and scoff at the very notion that they need to include the heretics in whatever grand spectacle they have planned. Boycotts only work if they somehow affect the party being boycotted.

Cecil Ward

March 24, 2008 10:16 AM

I very much sympathize with Random's comment "boycotts only work if they somehow affect the party being boycotted". It's an important point.

But I think that Random is wrong on balance. Remember the chinese regime had to fight in a bidding war to get the olympics. So obviously they want the rewards from the process. The question is how best to devalue that for them.


March 24, 2008 12:28 PM

A dinner party is taking place in the dining room of a person's home. As the guests enjoy themselves in the dining room, the host is assaulting his/her family in the living room. Instead of doing something about it, the party goers turn-up the volume on the music to drown out the noise of the violence taking place in the next room, and continue enjoying themselves. How is this different from the rest of the world continuing to enjoy the 2008 Olympic Games despite what is happening in Tibet?


March 24, 2008 12:40 PM

CJ raises an interesting analogy but this isn't a 'dinner' party. It's an international event where the people being punished by a boycott are, first and foremost, the athletes. The games are about so much more than the host country. And Beijing, for all of its many continued issues with everything from rule of law to privacy protections, is making some progress in the area of human rights. The Olympics is another opportunity to encourage it to foster a more open society.


March 28, 2008 5:56 PM

I have the feeling that westerners hold a strong sense superiority and denies us ordinary chinese citizens of any agency.

We are the ones who you alleges the Chinese government has percecuted, but we are the ones your boycotting of the game is really hurting. We worked so hard to prepare for the game. We are eager to invite all people around the world to celebrate the sporting spirit while enjoying the very place we grow up and help build.

You like to teach huh? You want to tell us what to do and question our intelligence? Well, if you are a really good teacher, that's fine. But look at the US track record. Everytime you teach others about democracy, you send troops, make people hate each other and f*ck the whole region up. We are no fools, we will deal with our own government and problems, we will make our voices heard and we are succeeding and you are in no position to criticizing us. we tell ourselves what to do, so NO thanks, we don't want your help, coz you are not helping at all.


May 26, 2008 6:10 PM

Kavi quoted: "Do you think communist China celebrates "individual achievement?" Hell no. They bash it down with a hammer"

Have you been to China? Or do you just assume this hearing China is communist? FYI, China "claims" to be communist, but in reality, is leaning more so to capitalist. China has a stock market, which trully represents capitalism. Your statement is false- anyone who is aware of China's economy would know. Not only is "individal achievement" visible in business, but also in education, sports, etc.
The Dalai-Lama HIMSELF claims that he is against boycotting the Olympics. Why is the U.S so angry with China's human rights and the problem with Tibet when the U.S has a terrible history itself?
Also, the Olympics were made to represent peace and cooperation. It is a festive world ceremony. By boycotting, this would completely go against the whole purpose! Think about the athletes who have trained their whole lives for this, and, if their county boycotts it, all their work would go to waste! The athletes don't even have a say in this! Politics should not be interfered with the Olympics!

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