It was 1980 when accomplished pentathlete Diane Jones-Konihowski was set to head to Moscow for the Summer Olympics. But a boycott forced her to miss out competing in her final Olympic Games.
The now 70-year-old lives in Calgary and she recalled her bold opposition to the boycott, despite it being unpopular to speak out.
“I spoke out strongly against it. I felt it was wrong and I got lambasted in the media. Girls in my apartment got obscene phone calls — it was just horrible,” Jones-Konihowski said. “It didn’t make sense to me and at the end of the day it hurts athletes.”
Following an invitation from Russian officials to still compete, she considered going without national representation and despite the boycott. But Jones-Konihowski made a decision to bow out, fearing for her safety.
“Without me there, the competition was gone because I was a realistic podium hopeful,” Jones-Konihowski said. “It was a Russian sweep of the event and they wanted to have some competition. I had to think long and hard whether I was to go and I chose not to — it was unsafe and an angry environment for Canada.
“A couple years later I regretted that decision. Even if I wasn’t representing Canada, I could have realized my dreams.”
She doesn’t want athletes destined for the Beijing Games to miss out because of politics.
“The Olympics is the biggest show in the world and if you want to make a political statement, you choose the Olympic Games,” Jones-Konihowski said.
“If they think they’re gonna hurt China by not showing up, they are very wrong.”
At Tokyo’s closing ceremonies, the Canadian Olympic Committee’s CEO David Shoemaker said there are concerns, but want their athletes to represent Canada in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“We believe strongly a boycott is not the answer,” Shoemaker said. “Sport has unique power to bring people together, to inspire Canadians, and Team Canada’s presence in Beijing and the dialogue created by our presence from our winter performance is something we should cherish.”
Experts studying Canada-China relations say there is no question China is concerned what a boycott could do to their international reputation but it won’t be enough to fundamentally change their policies. One such experts is Gordon Houlden, director at the China Institute at the University of Alberta.
“A boycott in effect sends a moral signal we aren’t happy with China,” Houlden said. “That signal is sent but will there be a change on the ground? Will China shift their views? I doubt it.”