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No, a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics doesn’t mean Team USA athletes can’t compete

The White House announced the diplomatic boycott as a stand against China's human rights abuses, but said U.S. government officials would support Team USA from home.

On Dec. 6, the White House announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. This announcement comes nearly a month after President Joe Biden said he was considering the strategy as a way to address concerns about human rights abuses in China. 

Some people on social media are now wondering if a diplomatic boycott means Team USA athletes won’t be allowed to compete at the games. 

THE QUESTION

Does a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics mean Team USA athletes can’t compete? 

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics does not mean Team USA athletes can’t compete. 

WHAT WE FOUND

A diplomatic boycott is when a country decides not to send any diplomatic or official government representatives to the Olympics games, whereas a full boycott is when the country also bars its athletes from participating in the games. 

During a press briefing Monday morning, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. diplomatic boycott was in response to China's human rights abuses.

“U.S. diplomatic or official representation would treat these games as business as usual in the face of the PRC's egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang, and we simply can’t do that," she said.

But Psaki added the decision will not impact Team USA athletes. 

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home,” said Psaki. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) released a statement on Dec. 6 following the White House’s announcement. 

“The presence of government officials and diplomats is a purely political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects,” said the IOC. “At the same time, this announcement also makes clear that the Olympic Games and the participation of the athletes are beyond politics, and we welcome this.”

According to U.S. Department of State archives, the last time the United States staged a full boycott of the Olympics was at the 1980 Moscow summer games during the Jimmy Carter Administration. The U.S., along with 64 other countries and territories, used the boycott as a way to take a stand against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979. 

Before the White House’s announcement, Zhao Lijian, who serves as the spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, addressed the threat of the boycott on Dec. 6, calling the move offensive to China’s 1.4 billion citizens and “a serious stain on the spirit of the Olympic Charter.” Lijian also warned of "resolute countermeasures."

Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia have also said they’re considering taking similar diplomatic action. 

More from VERIFY: Yes, two medal contenders were disqualified from an Olympic race because their natural testosterone levels were too high

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