USOC criticizes Richardson over boycott comment

The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) criticized Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson yesterday, a day after he suggested that the U.S. boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics if China fails to do more to end the Darfur conflict.

The USOC completely disagrees with Richardson’s view, chief communications officer Darryl Seibel said in a statement.
He said the Olympics are about sports, not politics, and should be a unifying force that helps bring the world together.

“As has been demonstrated in the past, absolutely nothing is accomplished through a boycott — other than to unfairly penalize athletes who have spent decades pursuing their Olympic or Paralympic dream,” Seibel said.

Separately, Steve Bull, who heads government relations for the USOC, warned that a boycott of the Beijing Olympics could kill Chicago’s chances of hosting the 2016 Olympics.

“Even the discussion is harmful,” Bull told The Hill.

He said the USOC has not been lobbying members to stop boycott threats, but suggested members of the Illinois delegation may get involved in the issue if such suggestions continue.

Talk of boycotting the Beijing games has increased over the last month despite efforts by China to reach out to activist groups and members of Congress. For example, the Save Darfur Coalition last week paid for a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post that linked the Beijing games to genocide in Darfur.

Resolutions also have been introduced in the Senate and House that stop short of calling for a boycott but do ask China to do more to end the Darfur conflict.

Richardson, New Mexico’s governor, raised the idea during the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate on Sunday. He said the U.S. needed to do several things to bring an end to violence in Darfur, including leaning on China. “And if the Chinese don’t want to do this, we say to them, maybe we won’t go to the Olympics,” Richardson said.

Pressed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), another presidential hopeful, said a boycott would go too far and might make it less likely that China would use its influence to end the Darfur conflict.

But former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) said he disagreed with Dodd and that the U.S. should use “whatever tools available” to end the conflict. China is the largest foreign investor in Sudan and purchases 70 percent of the African nation’s total exports, including much of its oil. Save Darfur charges that China has been a major impediment to strong United Nations Security Council action against Sudan and that it could use its influence to get Sudan to accept a U.N. peacekeeping force.