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Athletes from more than 100 countries were supposed to stream into Tokyo's National Stadium on Friday as the opening ceremony for the 2020 Olympic Games unfolded. Instead, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers merely posted a video message reminding people that the games will (in theory) still happen next year. It’s the most serious crisis to face the Olympics in decades. But in all likelihood, it will soon be the second most serious.

A bigger calamity awaits just five months after the rescheduled Summer Games, when athletes are supposed to convene in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Thanks to growing concerns over China’s geopolitical ambitions and human rights record, boycotts are already being discussed by some of the Olympics’ most influential competitors. If they follow through, their absence will not only undermine the credibility of the games but severely curtail the sponsorships that even make them possible.

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