As concern grows, both in Canada and elsewhere, over China’s persecution of Uighur Muslims, Canadian’s have begun calling for a boycott of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.
A former Assistant Deputy Minister in the Department of Finance, Alan Freeman, has been one of the more outspoken in urging the country’s government to commit to a boycott. Freeman said:
“How can we even contemplate sending the cream of our athletes, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looking on, and watching them gleefully enter Beijing’s Olympic Stadium for glitzy opening ceremonies while Canadians remain behind bars in a Chinese prison?”
The Canadians Freeman refers to are Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, who have been detained in China since 2018.
Despite cries for the country to boycott the games, the Canadian Olympic Committee has remained dedicated to ensuring that the country’s team competes as planned.
“We have concerns about what we are hearing is occurring in the host country and we know the Government of Canada is addressing these issues on a government-to-government basis. The Canadian Olympic Committee believes that sport has a unique power to bring the world together, to create dialogue, and build understanding through important people-to-people connections. Past Olympic boycotts such as Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 punished athletes, further entrenched governments in their positions, and achieved little else. If the end goal is to see a change, we believe a boycott would be counterproductive.”
The country is also limited in its ability to make political statements through the Olympic Games. Per the 2020 edition of the Olympic Charter, National Olympic Committees cannot make any form of a political, religious, or racial demonstration at an Olympic site. While the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has requested that peaceful actions advocating for human rights be allowed at the games, unless the 2022 edition of the Olympic Charter is changed, no form of a political statement will be allowed at the 2022 Olympic Games.
Canada is not alone in discussing the possibility of boycotting the 2022 Games. In October of 2020, the British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab suggested that the boycotting of the 2022 Olympic Games was a possibility in light of what he referred to as “egregious human rights violations.” He also said it was possible that Prince William, who often represents the government at international sporting events, may be asked to not attend the games.
In the United States, China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims was recently classified as genocide and crimes against humanity by now-former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Canada was among the most successful teams at the last Winter Olympic Games held in 2018. The country finished with 29 medals, making them the 3rd most decorated team at the 2018 Olympic Games. Canada holds the 5th most medals all-time at the Winter Olympic games, with 199 in total.
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.