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Saturday sports: US diplomatically boycotting Winter Olympics; Formula One faceoff

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Road rage at 200 miles per hour - also called Formula 1. Also, more countries try to make a statement by only sending athletes to the Winter Olympics in Beijing. And UConn limps forward without its biggest star. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And let's begin with that announcement this week. President Biden says the U.S. will diplomatically boycott the Winter Olympics in China. By the way, so will the U.K., Canada and Australia. Will this send a message about human rights abuses there?

GOLDMAN: Good question, Scott. You know, the U.S. government had to do something after it labeled what China is doing to the Uyghur community cultural genocide. Does not sending diplomats to the Olympics keep anyone from being imprisoned or sent to re-education camps or subjected to forced sterilization, all of those having been documented? Probably not. But it is something to say, at least, that these Olympics can't be business as usual. It's notable - after the U.S. announced its boycott, China had a strong response, threatening resolute countermeasures, though we don't know what those are at this point.

SIMON: Let's move on to basketball because Paige Bueckers, the great UConn phenom, is out with a fracture in her leg. And the team's estimable coach says that he can never recall this great team being so low before.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, Geno Auriemma is estimable, I agree. After UConn played its first game without Bueckers and lost by 13 to Georgia Tech - that's the Huskies first loss to an unranked team in nine years - Auriemma called his team disorganized and disheveled. He said it's not all about Bueckers' absence, but, you know, you lose your leader in scoring, assists and steals, that's going to have an impact. UConn plays UCLA today. We'll see if the No. 3 ranked Huskies can start to fix their problems. But, Scott, it's only December. We're still a couple of months away from when college basketball really starts to matter, and Bueckers should be back by then.

SIMON: OK. Tomorrow, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Formula 1 - there's going to be a whole, obviously, gaggle of drivers actually in cars on the track, but all eyes are going to be on Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. And some worry that these guys are going to run into each other, isn't there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, there is that concern. But, Scott, first, let's celebrate talking Formula 1. It's long overdue. It's the best in motor race.

SIMON: The last time we talked about Formula 1, Model T's were being used, but go ahead, yes.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) I thought we were talking about baby food, actually. But anyway...

SIMON: (Laughter) That's better. OK, go ahead.

GOLDMAN: Formula 1 is the best in motor racing, and 36-year-old Hamilton of the U.K. and 24-year-old Verstappen of the Netherlands have made it that much better this season. They're currently tied for first in points, way ahead of everyone else. That sets up this thrilling finale in Abu Dhabi, where the one who finishes ahead of the other wins the title. If it's Hamilton, he makes history. It'll give him eight championships, most of anyone. But, yeah, back to that running into each other, their rivalry has turned icy, with bumping cars leading to penalties. Words have been exchanged, although I don't believe leather gloves have been used to slap each other yet.

SIMON: And Lewis Hamilton has become one of the best known performers in the world, hasn't he?

GOLDMAN: Sir Lewis Hamilton - knighted last year. Formula 1's first and still only Black driver, he's been very outspoken on social issues. At the Grand Prix in Qatar, a country where homosexuality is against the law, Hamilton wore a rainbow-colored helmet, honoring LGBTQ pride. He's the breakout star of a sport gaining popularity outside racing circles and is helped along by the Netflix series "Drive To Survive." And, Scott, this showdown tomorrow should really give the sport a boost, too.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.