Thursday, August 21, 2008

Interview With A Boycotter

Sven Wilson is a professor of political science and director of the graduate program of public policy at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He received his PhD in economics from the University of Chicago. He is also a sports fan who decided to boycott these Olympics. I talked to him about it this week.

Sports Academic: How are you boycotting the Olympics?

Professor Wilson: We're not watching any of the coverage. I've read some tidbits about it in the press since I read a lot of the news anyway so it's kind of hard to avoid.

SA: So this is a TV boycott, you're boycotting NBC... why?

PW: In a sense the Western institutions that allowed this to go to China are responsible. And it's not so much that I thought about who I wanted to target--it's the idea that way back eight or ten years ago when this decision was made I was so appalled that I decided not to participate. And I wanted to do a larger protest. I wanted to get more people involved, start a website, I had some good T-shirt designs--Olympic rings dripping with blood--things like that, but I was really sick in July for most of the month so the media coverage didn't happen.

SA: What does your family think of the boycott?

PW: That's one of the main reasons I decided to go through with it. In fifteen years my children probably wouldn't remember any events... they might remember Michael Phelps winning but they're more likely to remember taking a stand against oppression and victimization of the human spirit.

SA: What particularly upsets you about the authoritarian regime in China.

PW: Well, the list is so long it's really hard to start. I'm particularly sensitive to basic civil liberties like freedom of speech and assembly and the press and those kind of things. I think it goes back to 1989 when I was a new college graduate living by myself in New Jersey and I was getting caught up in the student protests there in China. You remember there was a lot of media coverage and the big networks were there. So when the tanks moved in I really took it personally. The world is full of human rights violations but that one affected me more on a personal level. You know, China hasn't changed much. The only thing they would do differently today is they would do a better job hiding it from the world. They would still move the tanks in.

SA: There are a lot of multinational and American corporations that do business in China. How is the International Olympic Committee's agreement with China different from these other corporate ventures?

PW: I don't know. I'm pretty upset about these companies that help China restrict access to information as well. I'm not into boycotting everybody that facilitates the Chinese regime. It would be pretty hard to function and the only one who would suffer would be me (laugh).

SA: Do you think it's possible the Olympics could move China in the right direction?

PW: Yes, I think that's conceivable. But in most cases I think that argument is an argument of convenience in order to ignore human rights violations. In other words, giving us a market for our products isn't justification for ignoring human rights violations. That seems to have been the driving force behind a lot of U.S. policy towards China: we benefit economically by having good trade relations with China. Personally, I'm willing to pay higher prices at Wal-Mart and have trade relations suffer. [...]

SA: Have the Olympics been positive in that they have opened peoples' eyes in the West to some abuses in China?

PW: If they move toward thinking China has a horrendous record on human rights, then that would be nice. Most people still think China makes cheap stuff and now they think the Chinese are petty cheaters. The Chinese are a lot more than petty cheaters.

Update: Sven sent me a link to this NY Times article that exposes the way China has cracked down on even benign dissenting voices during the Olympics.

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