Concerns and Controversies Over The 2008 Summer Olympics - Political Issues Leading Up To The Games - Boycotts


Calls for sustained pressure and boycotts of the Olympics came from former French presidential candidate François Bayrou, Sudan scholar Eric Reeves and the The Washington Post editorial board. In February 2008, American film director Steven Spielberg announced he was stepping down from his role as an artistic advisor in protest of the Chinese government's refusal to pressure Sudan to stop the "continuing human suffering" in the Darfur region, urging it to do more to stop "these crimes against humanity." European Parliament Vice-President Edward McMillan-Scott, called for a boycott of the Beijing games; and praised the Prince of Wales for not attending the Games. Additionally, 106 lawmakers in the United States circulated a letter calling for the US to boycott the Olympics because of China's support of the Sudanese regime and the forced relocation of 300,000 poor Chinese to make room for the games. US Senators John McCain and Barack Obama both claimed that they would have boycotted the ceremony if they were in the White House. Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, became the first EU head of government to announce a boycott and was soon joined by President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said she will not attend opening of the Beijing Olympics. The Geneva-based group Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions claimed that 1.5 million Beijing residents would be displaced from their homes for the construction of Olympics venues. Beijing's Olympic organising committee and China's Foreign Ministry stated that 15,000 residents from 6,037 households were displaced. Some sources said that as of May 2005, 300,000 residents were evicted in preparation for the games and that police in Beijing placed many people under arrest for protesting against the evictions. Protester Ye Guozhu, who attempted to draw public attention to alleged forced evictions in Beijing due to Olympics-related construction, was sentenced in December 2004 to a four-year prison term for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble".

The British Olympic Association (BOA) required that British participants signed an agreement before leaving for China, promising not to comment on any "politically sensitive issues." However, a BOA spokesman stated that the BOA's intention was not to censor athletes, but to reaffirm the IOC charter, which prohibits demonstration of political, religious or racial propaganda in any Olympic venues.

In general, attendance at the 2008 games was highly politicised, with as many as 80 political heads of state attending; several major political figures, however, considered boycotting the Games for political reasons. On 2 April 2008, the Japanese government announced that its royal family would not participate in the opening ceremony because of the international concern focused on the violent crackdown in Tibet. On 5 April, the newspaper Le Monde reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy hoped that there would be an end to violence against Tibetans, the release of political prisoners, light to be shed on the events and the opening of dialogue with the Dalai Lama before the opening ceremony. The BBC wrote that while Sarkozy was opposed to a full boycott, he would "not close the door to any possibility" as far as his own attendance was concerned.

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