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Is an Olympic boycott worth it?

Aug 12,2019
CHANG HYE-SOO
The author is the sports team chief at the JoongAng Ilbo.

On Sept. 25, 1980, about a month after the Summer Olympics in Moscow took place, 107 athletes from Team Korea were gathered at a hotel in Seoul. The chairman of the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee at the time, Jo Sang-ho, went around giving medals to each athlete in consolation. He was comforting them because they were forced to miss out on the competition after years of training. He cheered them on for better results at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. The Moscow Olympics took place at the peak of the Cold War and the United States boycotted the event following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. About 20 countries, including South Korea and Japan, were pressured to join the U.S.-led boycott. Those who participated did not attend the opening ceremony or chose to walk in with the Olympic flag instead of their nation’s flags.

Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon pulled out of the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, in protest of the West’s support of Israel’s invasion of the Suez Canal after it was claimed by Egypt. North Korea and Indonesia passed on the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 after they clashed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over eligibility issues.

The IOC itself can also sanction participation. South Africa was banned from IOC-sponsored events from 1964 to 1988 for its racist policy of apartheid. After Russia’s state-sponsored doping program was exposed in 2015, athletes involved in the scandal were banned from the Rio 2016 Games. Russia was also banned from competing in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018. Instead of representing their country, they competed under the neutral Olympic Athletes from Russia name.

Some in the ruling Democratic Party (DP) have been campaigning for a boycott of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics in protest of the retaliatory trade actions from the Abe administration. A poll showed that 70 percent of Koreans approve of the boycott. But what use have boycotts been in Olympic history? Instead of damaging the Japanese government, the move would only hurt young Korean athletes.