As support mounts for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games following a report last week supporting claims of Chinese genocide against the Uyghur minority group, newly-re-elected IOC president Thomas Bach rejects calls for countries to withdraw their athletes.
While part of the IOC’s newly-approved “Olympic Agenda 2020+5” involves a new focus on human rights. Bach says that this focus won’t motivate the IOC to remove the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing, China, but rather it is being addressed as part of future Host City Contracts.
“We are redressing it within our remits and this was a part of the discussion there today, that within our remits, our responsibility, all these questions are being addressed,” Bach said after last week’s IOC meetings. “A number of these questions are a part of the Host City Contract and this is our responsibility, and this responsibility we are taking very seriously.
“This leads directly to the question which is behind there, of boycott discussion. And there, we can only repeat once again and give advice to learn from history, a boycott of the Olympic Games has never achieved anything. …
“Be mindful of the boycott in Moscow 1980, which was because of the intervention of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. The Soviet Army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, nine years after this boycott. So it really served nothing but punishing their own athletes and then led to the counter-boycott in Los Angeles.
“It also has no logic. Why would you punish the athletes from your own country if you have a dispute with the government from another country? This just makes no real sense. And the athletes would be the ones who are suffering.
After being pushed, Bach added that human rights, labor rights, and other human rights issues would be included in future Host City Contracts, and said that it is not the IOC’s responsibility to solve human rights issues.
“I think this has been very clear today, that within the remit of the IOC, we are taking this very seriously. This means, with everything, what is related to the Olympic Games – human rights, labor rights and others – are or will be part of the Host City Contract and on this we are working very closely with the organizing committee. There we are also monitoring; this includes, for instance, supply chains or labor rights and freedom of press and many other issues. This is our responsibility and again, this responsibility has been acknowledged by the United Nations, by the international community and this we are taking very seriously.
“We are not a super-world government, where the IOC could solve or even address issues for which not the U.N. Security Council, no G-7, no G-20 has solutions. This is in the remits of politics. We have to live up to our responsibilities within our area of responsibilities, and the governments have to live up to their responsibilities in their remits.”
His comments, combined with the 2020+5 agenda, leave some confusion as to whether the IOC believes that human rights are within the purview of the Olympic Committee through programs like Host City Contracts and the Refugee Olympic Team, or not.
The last official Olympic Games boycott by a nation came with the 1988 Seoul Games in South Korea. There, a handful of nations boycotted, with Cuba and Ethiopia specifically declaring their boycott over issues with the conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
There were talks of boycotts of the 2008 Summer Olympics, also in Beijing, over China’s treatment of Tibet, among other matters.
More-and-more politicians and other leaders, especially from western nations, have begun calling for boycotts from the Games. Former American presidential candidate, current U.S. senator from Utah, and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Mitt Romney, proposed a different form of boycott in a New York Times editorial on Monday.
“Prohibiting our athletes from competing in China is the easy, but wrong, answer,” Romney wrote. “Our athletes have trained their entire lives for this competition and have primed their abilities to peak in 2022. When I helped organize the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, I gained an understanding of the enormous sacrifice made by our Olympic hopefuls and their families. It would be unfair to ask a few hundred young American athletes to shoulder the burden of our disapproval.
“It could also be counterproductive. The Olympic Games aren’t just a showcase for the host nation, but a platform for values both American and universal. If our athletes skip the Games, millions of young Americans at home might skip watching it. And the Olympic Games are one of the most enduring demonstrations of the great qualities of the human spirit on the world stage: We witness determination, sacrifice, patriotism, endurance, sportsmanship. We would also lose the global symbolism of our young American heroes standing atop the medals podium, hand to their hearts, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays on Chinese soil.”
Romney went on to echo Bach’s comments about whether the 1980s boycotts worked.
Instead, Romney proposed an economic and diplomatic boycott, meaning American spectators (other than families of athletes and coaches) staying home and not spending money in China, and American companies hosting events at U.S. venues instead of Chinese venues. He also proposed sending “Chinese dissidents, religious leaders and ethnic minorities” to represent the United States at the game instead of the traditional delegation of diplomats.
He also proposed working with the American broadcaster NBC to avoid “showing jingoistic elements of the opening and closing ceremonies and instead broadcast(ing) documented reports of China’s abuses.”
Background on the Boycott Calls
The Newslines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a think tank based in Washington D.C., released the first independent non-governmental report on the accusations of genocide in Xinjiang, China. The report included contributions by more than 50 global experts in international, law, genocide, and China, who collectively concluded that the Chinese government “bears state responsibility for an ongoing genocide against the Uyghur in beach of the (United Nations) Genocide Convention.”
The report placed responsibility for the actions against the Uyghurs on the ruling party in China.
Reporting by the U.S. State Department has said that as many as 2 million Uyghur and other Mulsim minorities have been placed in detention centers across Xinjiang. Those who have emerged from that detention have reported “re-education” programs, sexual abuse, forced sterilization, and forced intermarrying with Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in the country.
China has denied these claims, saying that the detention centers are part of efforts to fight terrorism and religious extremism. At one point, a Chinese official pointed to a rise in the Uyghur population in the country’s official data as evidence that no forced sterilization program was happening.
China has barred Britain’s BBC, which has led reporting on the allegations globally, from the country.