Bad and Good Olympic Boycotts
Let people choose for themselves.
No one knows how hard it is. No one knows what we’re doing every day and what the challenges are. We were invisible basically, except portrayed as children who wouldn’t do what the president wanted to have done. But it was our lives, not his.
The above quote is from Anita DeFrantz, who was on the U.S. Olympic rowing team for the 1980 Olympics, which were held in Moscow. She didn’t get to go, nor did the other athletes, because of President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the Olympics. The quote is on an eleven minute video put out by the Washington Post on July 16, 2020. You can tell from the quote above, and from DeFrantz’s tone, that she is still bitter about Carter having made her decision for her.
In the narrative that accompanies the video is this segment from DeFrantz:
I finally asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, David Jones … “Can you tell me that one human life will be saved if we don’t go to Moscow?” He thought about it and said, “No.” That was the bottom line for me: If we can’t save one person, why are we doing this?
As fate would have it, Cutler, who was then attorney for the president, invited me to come back with him to the White House to have another discussion. … We sat and we talked back and forth. He finally said, “Anita, isn’t there something you can feel in your gut when something is wrong?” I said: “Absolutely. I most certainly have that feeling right now.”
Good for her.
One of the easiest things for politicians to do is make decisions that dash people’s dreams but have very little effect on the politicians’ lives. Carter’s decision was one such.
I followed the issue in 1980 and at the time I thought that Carter had literally prevented the athletes from going to Moscow. But his chief domestic policy advisor, Stuart Eizenstat, says that’s not true. In the narrative, Eizenstat says:
And third, he realized that the U.S. government didn’t have full control over whether we participated as a U.S. team in the Olympics. That was ultimately up to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is a totally separate independent body from the U.S. government.
So Vice-President Walter Mondale went to a USOC meeting in Colorado Springs to make Carter’s case. The vote, by secret ballot, was 1,604 to 798 for the boycott. Did Mondale or Carter make threats? I don’t know and we may never know. (DeFrantz, by the way, says that what cinched it for Carter was former Ford administration Treasury Secretary Bill Simon’s speech in which he said that the USOC should do what the president wanted.)
All of that makes refreshing, to me at least, what President Biden is considering regarding a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. This is from Associated Press, “President Joe Biden says U.S. ‘considering’ diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Olympics,” November 18, 2021.
President Joe Biden said Thursday that the United States was considering a diplomatic boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing over China’s human rights abuses, a move that would keep American dignitaries, but not athletes, from the Games.
If Biden doesn’t want to send government officials, at our expense, to the games, that’s great. But let the athletes make their own decisions. And it looks as if he plans to do just that. Score one for Biden.
Actually, in her 66-page oral history, DeFrantz made the point more eloquently back in 1980:
I think the real turning point was when someone from a magazine called and stated, “President Carter said, ‘We won’t be going to Moscow’.” I shot back, “We? What do you mean ‘we?’ Where was ‘we’ when I was training all year in the cold and freezing my butt off?” I went on to say, “There’s not one penny of federal money that goes into training. It is a private enterprise and I, as a private citizen, have the right to decide.”
The pic at the top is of Anita DeFrantz.