Winter Olympics: US Olympian Angela Ruggiero delighted athletes not being punished over politics after Beijing boycott announced
- Former ice hockey gold medallist and IOC member says initial reaction was one of relief
- Earlier President Joe Biden said the US not send government officials to the 2022 Games
Four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero greeted the announcement of the United States’ diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games with relief on Monday, delighted there was no suggestion athletes should also stay away.
Ruggiero, who won ice hockey gold for the United States in 1998 and later served as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said it was important athletes were not penalised for politics.
“My initial reaction was a bit of relief that it wasn’t anything more dramatic,” Ruggiero said. “You know, you work all your life to compete and you never want politics to get in the way of that chance.
“President Biden and others, obviously, wanted to make a statement and use the levers that they had without affecting the athletes, so I think that’s what we saw in this diplomatic boycott.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki added, though, that athletes would have the government’s full support, and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee released a statement affirming that the team would be going to China.
Full-scale withdrawal of countries from the Olympics have been uncommon since the 1980 the 1984 Summer Games were severely affected by political protests.
The United States led 66 nations in pulling out of the 1980 Moscow Games over the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, while the Communist Bloc responded in kind at the Los Angeles Olympics four years later.
“I’ve heard stories of the boycott in ‘80 and ‘84 and what that did to the athletes that weren’t able to compete,” Ruggiero said. “Can we have these harder conversations without penalising the athletes at the end of the day? … I think that’s the middle ground.”
Earlier this year, US Olympians voiced concern over China’s track record on human rights, after advocacy groups and US lawmakers called on the IOC to postpone the Games or relocate the event.
Ruggiero, who is CEO of sports and technology firm Sports Innovation Lab, said there were ways other than boycotts for athletes to make their views known, although they should not feel pressured to do so.
“Some athletes might just want to show up and compete and not have to think about anything other than their competition, others might see this as their platform for affecting change in broader ways than just their performance,” she said.
“Athletes should treat these Olympics in whatever way feels best for them and right for them, and know that everyone is looking out for their safety first and foremost.”