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Utah’s Olympic bidders say U.S. diplomatic boycott of Beijing Games won’t affect trip to China

Sen. Mitt Romney applauds Biden administration decision

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From left, Glenn de Blois of the Netherlands, Nick Baumgartner of the United States, and Jakob Dusek of Austria compete during a semifinal of men’s snowboard cross at the FIS Snowboard Cross World Cup, a test event for the 2022 Winter Olympics, at the Genting Resort Secret Garden in Zhangjiakou, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. The U.S. has announced a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming 2022 Games in China.

Mark Schiefelbein, Associated Press

Leaders of Utah’s bid for another Olympics said the now-official United States diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing did not come up during their hourslong virtual meeting Monday with the International Olympic Committee.

Nor will the boycott, confirmed Monday by the White House and applauded by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, affect plans by the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games to send a three-person delegation to China to attend the Olympics next February.

“It was not discussed,” said the committee’s president and CEO, Fraser Bullock, even though IOC President Thomas Bach, who has opposed any boycott of the Beijing Games, joined the first part of the 212-hour-long meeting.

Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, said the committee’s “focus is not on any diplomatic boycott or any of those political dynamics.” He said he and others are going to Beijing to see what’s happening behind the scenes.

“Our focus is strictly on our Games. We’ve got our heads down. We’re working very hard on that and we know that things in the world come and go. We recognize this is a long journey,” he said.

Just how long remains unknown. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which selected Salt Lake City over Denver three years ago to bid for a future Winter Games, has yet to decide whether that’s for 2030 or 2034.

There are at least four other cities and countries talking with the IOC about 2030 — Vancouver, Canada; Sapporo, Japan; Barcelona and the Pyrenees mountain region; and Ukraine.

Utah bidders had hoped to travel to the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, for Monday’s meeting but it was moved to a virtual session due to concerns about surging COVID-19 cases.

On the same day as the virtual meeting, which included Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, President Joe Biden announced, as expected, a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing to protest China’s human rights record.

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support, we’ll be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday. “We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games.”

The boycott does not include athletes, meaning Team USA will still compete in Beijing, unlike in 1980. Then, the United States and dozens of other countries did not participate in the Moscow Summer Games to protest the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

Romney: ‘America will not turn a blind eye’

Romney, who led the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, began calling for a diplomatic boycott in March and has been joined by other members of Congress including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Monday, Romney tweeted, “The Administration is right to refuse diplomatic presence at the Beijing Olympics: America will not turn a blind eye to China’s predation, persecution, and genocide.”

China responded to earlier news that the announcement was coming by warning “resolute countermeasures” would be taken against the Biden administration if U.S. officials boycott the Winter Games set to start in February, CNN reported.

“The U.S. should stop politicizing sports and hyping up the so-called ‘diplomatic boycott’ so as not to affect China-U.S. dialogue and cooperation in important areas,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a news conference Monday.

Zhao said a boycott would be a “sensationalist and politically manipulative” move by U.S. politicians.

Sarah Hirschland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, thanked Biden in a statement for backing America’s winter athletes and said they’ll be prepared to make a good showing in Beijing.

“We greatly appreciate the unwavering support of the president and his administration and we know they will be cheering us on from home this winter. Competing on behalf of the United States is an honor and privilege, and Team USA is excited and ready to make the nation proud,” she said.

The International Olympic Committee said it “fully respects” the White House’s decision.

“The presence of government officials and diplomats is a purely political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects,” the IOC said in a statement. ”At the same time, this announcement also makes it clear that the Olympic Games and the participation of the athletes are beyond politics and we welcome this.”

Bach, however, said at an IOC meeting last year that “a sporting boycott only punishes the athletes of the boycotting country and deprives their people of sharing in the success, pride and joy of their Olympic team.”

The IOC leader from Germany, who was unable to defend his 1976 gold medal in team fencing at the 1980 Olympics because of the boycott, said the then Soviet Union stayed nine more years in Afghanistan.

“It appears that today, some just do not want to learn anything from history,” Bach said in 2020.

Romney said in a New York Times op-ed last March that China, also host of the 2008 Summer Games, “does not deserve an Olympic showcase,” citing what he called genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities.

The Utah Republican senator said that while the IOC hopes “awarding Games to repressive regimes would tend to lessen their abuses,” they’ve “more often been a tool of propaganda” in authoritarian states like Hitler’s Germany, Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China.

On Monday, Romney and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, issued a joint statement applauding Biden’s “decision to withhold any diplomatic presence from the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.”

The senators — Romney, the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2012 and Kaine, the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee in 2016 — said “ America must not lend its credibility to the Chinese Communist Party.”

They said the party “represses ethnic and religious minorities — committing genocide against its Uyghur citizens, oppressing the people of Hong Kong, and subjugating the people of Tibet. Never again must the Olympics be awarded to a nation which so blatantly violates the human rights of its own citizens.”

Pressure on the Biden administration to boycott Beijing has only increased since then, most recently because of the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after she made sexual assault allegations against a former senior official of the Chinese Communist Party.

She reappeared after three weeks, including in calls with IOC leaders, but questions remain.

Utah’s bidders say ‘excellent tone’ set with IOC

Bullock offered few details about what was discussed during Monday’s call with Bach and IOC staff, intended to lay out the new, less formal bid process. He said Utah bidders shared their vision for a future Winter Games in the state.

But there’s still work to do on what that looks like — and what another Olympics means for Utah — before that’s made public, Bullock said. “We’re still polishing it so we’re not quite ready to bring it out yet,” he said.

There is no timeline for the IOC to choose a host city for 2030 or beyond.

Bullock said he, committee chairwoman Catherine Raney Norman, and a committee consultant, Darren Hughes, are being allowed to attend the Beijing Olympics despite a ban on foreign spectators due to COVID-19.

The delegation will be in Beijing to gain an “understanding what they’re doing in terms of hosting Games, new ideas that we can bring into our Games, and talking with people about our future hosting opportunity,” Bullock said,

The Salt Lake City mayor said in a statement she is “encouraged by our virtual call this morning with the IOC and believe we’re moving in the right direction to once again welcome the world to Utah.”

Asked about the bid committee sending a delegation to the Beijing Games, Mendenhall said, “Though Salt Lake City supports the sanctity of human rights locally and around the world, my focus with regard to the Olympics is on showcasing Salt Lake City and supporting our athletes who will be competing in February.”