Sometimes, sending diplomats to attend the Olympics can be an attempt to influence the host country using a carrot approach rather than the stick approach of a diplomatic boycott. Consider the policy of the UK government with regard to the 2008 Beijing Olympics - Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell responded to this in the House of Commons:
Mr. Peter Bone
Question 1. Whether she plans to attend the Beijing Olympics.
I shall speak very quickly, Mr. Speaker.
I plan to attend the whole of the Olympic games and part of the Paralympic games, including both closing ceremonies, with the handover to London, at which point London becomes host city for both the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree that we have more chance of achieving human rights reforms in China if we engage with the Chinese than if we boycott the Olympics?
I entirely agree.
Amnesty International recently reported that the current wave of oppression in China is occurring not in spite of the Olympics but because of it. Does the Minister intend to attend the Beijing Olympics regardless of China’s clear breach of its commitments to the International Olympic Committee?
In practice, the commitments made by China to the IOC were specifically about increasing press freedom. Eighteen months ago, I secured, as did other colleagues in negotiation with counterparts, the free movement of accredited and non-accredited journalists in the run-up to the Olympics. That is a specific and important freedom, which we must now ensure continues after the games in continuing dialogue with China.
Of course, this 'softer' policy could have been influenced by the fact that the UK was to host the Games in 2012.