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News Navigator: What is 'Olympic diplomacy'?

People wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19 walk by a winter sports-themed cartoon sculpture on display at a shopping mall in Beijing, on Dec. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about "Olympic diplomacy," and the decision by the U.S. to stage a "diplomatic boycott."

    Question: Will the United States boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics?

    Answer: It's going to stage a diplomatic boycott, which means not sending diplomatic missions to Olympic-related events. The U.S. government announced its intention to do so on Dec. 6, saying that China, the host country, is suppressing human rights in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and other areas.

    Q: What about the American athletes?

    A: Since this is not a boycott of the Games, athletes from the U.S. can participate. However, it is customary for the leaders of each country to attend the opening ceremony and other events of the Olympics, and to hold ceremonial talks with the host country to confirm their friendship. This is called "Olympic diplomacy."

    For the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer, American first lady Jill Biden came to Japan as head of the U.S. government delegation. She had dinner with then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and met with Emperor Naruhito.

    The celebratory mood also allows leaders of countries that normally have difficult relationships to meet peacefully. A diplomatic boycott would hamper such Olympic diplomacy.

    Q: Has human rights ever been an issue at the Olympics?

    A: At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the leaders of Western countries were absent from the opening ceremony to protest violations of human rights for gay and lesbian people in Russia, the host country. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics in Canada, no athletes from African countries participated in the Games, in connection with protests against apartheid in South Africa. Then in the wake of riots in Tibet Autonomous Region of China in March 2008, a number of European dignitaries who criticized China's hard-line response announced they would boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in August that year.

    Q: The Olympics are a celebration of sports, right?

    A: The Olympics are committed to contributing to a "peaceful and better world," so the protection of human rights is also an important principle of the Games.

    (Japanese original by Jun Kaneko, Foreign News Department)

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