Should we boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics?

Despite the genocide being perpetrated by the Chinese government, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is adamant about hosting the Olympics in Beijing.

In the northwestern Xinjiang region of China, up to three million Uyghur Muslims have been arbitrarily detained in concentration camps by the Chinese government with the aim of replacing their Muslim identity with absolute loyalty to the Chinese state through forced re-education. The treatment of Uyghurs in these camps is so outlandishly cruel that it amounts to genocide.

Beijing was selected as the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics in 2015. Despite the genocide being perpetrated by the Chinese government, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is adamant about hosting the Olympics in Beijing.

History of Boycotting Olympics

The practice of boycotting Olympics has a long history and occurs whenever there is a case of human rights abuse perpetrated by the host country or for other political reasons. Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, Montreal in 1976, Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984 were all boycotted by some countries. Although boycotts are a form of protest and protests aren’t always effective, they can put issues into the spotlight and sometimes on the right side of history too. It is far better to protest than to whitewash and turn a blind eye towards crimes against humanity.

Many athletes boycotted the 1936 Olympics. Credit: Joe Haupt/Flickr

The IOC’s say on the host country

Thomas Bach, president of the IOC recently wrote,

The International Olympic Committee, as a civil non-governmental organisation, is strictly politically neutral at all times. Neither awarding the Games, nor participating, are a political judgment regarding the host country. The Olympic Games cannot prevent wars and conflicts”.

While it is true that the Olympics cannot prevent wars, it can certainly comply with the Olympic Charter, the guiding document of the Olympics, which emphasizes the harmonious development of humankind and promotion of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity. How is an ongoing genocide perpetrated by the host country going to facilitate the harmonious development of humankind and preserve human dignity? By honouring a genocidal state with the prestige of hosting the Olympics, the IOC has made a mockery of its charter and has given a chance for China to masquerade itself as a country that respects human rights and vindicate its crimes against humanity.

Boycotts, Countries and Olympic players

While all countries have a responsibility to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the treatment of the Uyghurs clearly represents a violation of the declaration, no country has officially called for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. It is not only for governments but also for the Olympic athletes to understand that the 2022 Olympics are being hosted by a state which is currently perpetrating genocide and is not in compliance with the Olympic Charter. So, irrespective of whether the country to which the athlete belongs decides to boycott or not, athletes should take a moral decision to boycott the Beijing Olympics or raise their concerns with the IOC now. After all, it is the athletes who are going to take part in the games. Otherwise, they do not have a chance to participate and protest at an Olympic site since rule 50 of the Olympics charter restricts them from doing so.

By boycotting the Beijing Olympics, the hard work of the athletes may go in vain, they may lose a medal and perhaps money from sponsorships but what they gain is true conscience. There is nothing in the world that can be traded with a conscience. MK Gandhi once stated there is a higher court than the courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. Sure, there are many things that might be lost by not participating in the Olympics, but not all losses are defeats - even more so in this instance where an attempt is being made to uphold human rights over money, medals and prestige.

Athletes should take a moral decision to boycott the Beijing Olympics or raise their concerns with the IOC now.

The boycott of the Olympics will exert pressure on the Chinese state to stop their human rights abuses. It wouldn’t be irrelevant to understand that more pressure can be inflicted on China by suspending trade, which even countries that have declared China’s treatment of Uyghurs amounts to genocide, have refrained from (there is a bill tabled in the US Congress that would impose limitations on importation of goods from Xinjiang, but this isn't enough). This in no way means that the 2022 Olympics shouldn’t be boycotted but all possible options to pressure China should be considered, including ones that could result in economic losses.

The responsibility lies on everyone to uphold human rights. The International Olympic Committee should uphold its charter and change Beijing as the host city. Countries should uphold the universal declaration of human rights and the UN genocide convention. Athletes should come together and set an example by upholding human rights over medals, money and prestige. If the 2022 Olympics do take place in Beijing, it would be a devastating blow to the Universal Human Rights Declaration and would bring tremendous shame to the world we live in.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica Limited as a company.

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