The Olympic boycott most people think of when the subject of Olympic boycotts comes up is of course 1980 and Moscow. But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes in today's Los Angeles Times about the history of the almost-boycott by African-American athletes in 1968 in Mexico City at the height of the Vietnam War, the compromise that led to the black power salute at the medal ceremony for the 200 meters by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and what the history of 1968 has to do with the calls for Olympic boycotts against China now, forty years later.
What he writes comes very close to what I've been trying to express for several weeks now in this blog - the idea that closing off China with a boycott or by throwing the kitchen sink at the country for all of its perceived sins will do nothing to engage China, but being there and celebrating the Olympics alongside the millions of Chinese for whom the 2008 Olympics will be the most prestigious moment in the history of their country will build bridges that can only help China, and the relationship between China and the West, for decades to come.
Abdul-Jabbar says it best:
"Instead of turning our backs, we need to continue a dialogue with the Chinese.
The more we talk with each other, the more we understand each other and can reach compromises that will benefit the lives of those we are trying to help. Jackie Robinson once said that the great thing about athletics is that 'you learn to act democracy, not just talk it.'"
There's lots more where that came from in Abdul-Jabbar's commentary, a worthy read on this May Monday, 94 days before the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Abdul-Jabbar compares calls for Olympic boycotts in 1968 and 2008 (Los Angeles Times, 05-05-2008)