Groups alleging human-rights abuses against minorities in China are calling for a full-blown boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, a move likely to ratchet up pressure on the International Olympic Committee, athletes, sponsors and sports federations.
A coalition representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, residents of Hong Kong and others issued a statement Monday calling for the boycott, eschewing lesser measures that had been floated like “diplomatic boycotts” and further negotiations with the IOC or China.
“The time for talking with the IOC is over,” Lhadon Tethong of the Tibet Action Institute said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. “This cannot be games as usual or business as usual; not for the IOC and not for the international community.”
Tethong, herself, was detained and deported from China in 2007 — a year before the Beijing Summer Olympics — for leading a campaign for Tibet.
“The situation where we are now is demonstrably worse that it was then,” Tethong said, pointing out that the IOC said the 2008 Olympics would improve human rights in China. “If the games go ahead, then Beijing gets the international seal of approval for what they are doing.”
‘We are not a super-world government’
The push for a boycott comes a day before a joint hearing in the U.S. Congress focusing on the Beijing Olympics and China’s human-rights record, and just days after the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said boycotts are ineffective and only hurt athletes.
The IOC has repeatedly said it must be “neutral” and stay out of politics. The Switzerland-based body is essentially a sports business, deriving about 75 per cent of its income from selling broadcast rights, and 18 per cent more from sponsors. It also has observer status at the United Nations.
“We are not a super-world government,” IOC President Thomas Bach said recently.
Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic committees have stated their opposition to a boycott, saying in February they intend to send the country’s athletes to Beijing.
The Canadian Olympic Committee provided a statement Monday afternoon.
“The Canadian Olympic Committee has concerns about what we are hearing is occurring in the host country. We know the Government of Canada is continuing to address these issues on a government to government basis. We believe that sport has a unique power to bring the world together, to create dialogue and build understanding through important people to people connections.
“We intend to be present and a part of the global conversation, embodying the best of the Olympic and Canadian values by building bridges, not walls.”
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China’s foreign ministry has criticized “the politicization of sports” and has said any boycott is “doomed to failure.” China has denied accusations of genocide against the Uyghur people.
A recent U.S. State Department report stated explicitly that “genocide and crimes against humanity” have taken place in the past year against Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.
Question of morality
Tethong said she knows some athletes may be opposed. But she said others, who gained traction from Black Lives Matter movement, may become allies. She acknowledged this as a “gloves-off” moment.
“There are obviously a lot of people who are concerned about the athletes and their lifelong work,” Tethong said. “But in the end it’s the IOC that has put them in this position and should be held accountable.”
American skier Mikaela Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, spelled out the dilemma for athletes in a recent interview on CNN.
Tethong suggested coalition members might lobby the IOC’s top 15 sponsors, American network NBC, which generates about 40 per cent of all IOC revenue, sports federations, civil society groups “and anyone that will listen.”
Activists have already singled out IOC sponsor Airbnb for attention.
“First is the moral question,” Tethong said. “Is it OK to host an international goodwill sporting event such as the Olympic Games while the host nation is committing genocide just beyond the stands?”
In meetings with the IOC, activists say they have asked to see documents in which China has given “assurances” about human rights conditions. Activists say the IOC has not produced the documents.
Last week, human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority and demanded unimpeded access for U.N. experts.
At the meeting, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador, Barbara Woodward, called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
“The evidence points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups,” Woodward said. “Expressions of religion have been criminalized and Uyghur language and culture are discriminated against systematically and at scale.”
With files from CBC Sports