POSTED: January 6th 2018

NEIL WILSON: Graham unwise to signal Olympic Boycott for PyeongChang 2018

Lindsey Graham, Republican senator for South Carolina © Getty Images
Lindsey Graham, Republican senator for South Carolina © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) When will politicians learn. Olympic boycotts do not work.

The latest to forget the lessons of history is Lindsey Graham, Republican senator for South Carolina.

Graham reacted to the possibility of North Korea sending athletes to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, just south of its border with South Korea, by calling for a US boycott.

The possibility of the North's unexpected participation was raised in the North's president Kim Jong-un's New Year address. It was greeted with immediate delight by the South and talks on the issue -the first between two countries still technically at war for almost two years - are proposed for as early as next week.

Senator Graham's reaction on Twitter was so immediate that his knee had jerked before his brain had engaged with the past. "(I) fully believe that if North Korea goes to the Winter Olympics we do not," he tweeted.

He is old enough to know better about the effect of that decision. When a Democratic US president Jimmy Carter told the US Olympic Committee it must boycott the Moscow Olympics in 1980, Graham was 25. 

The Olympic Games went ahead without the Americans, as it would next month. The only losers would be the American athletes who have devoted years of their young lives to attaining their dream, and NBC whose shareholders will lose a fortune.

Boycotts of sporting events for political reasons never achieve their aim. The rest of the world thinks less of the boycotting nations and just get on with the event.

 Who even remembers that the Soviet Union did not show up  in Los Angeles as spiteful revenge for America's absence four years earlier. Or that Kenya denied its athletes their chance in Montreal in 1976.

The missing are lost in the mists of memory. Except that is to the athletes themselves, to the likes of Mike Boit and Ed Moses and Mary Slaney.

In contrast, North Korea's participation even in a small way in PyeongChang will be in accord with the United Nations-backed Olympic Truce and help to take some of the heat out of the present tensions between the two countries. 

At the very least it would ensure that the contingency plans that countries such as the US and Britain have made to extract their athletes in the event of war between the two could be consigned to a desk draw.

Graham's intervention puts the United States on the wrong side of the argument after Kim Jong-un cleverly stole the high ground in his address when he said: "We wish they (the Olympics) will be a success."

So do all of us. The IOC has done double back somersaults to ensure their mates from Russia are there in spite of the country's criminal misuse of drugs. It would be ironic indeed if it was the United States to whom it has just awarded the 2028 Summer Games who tried to pull the rug from under them. 

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson

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