Pressure Builds for 2022 Olympics Boycott

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said today that the U.K. government would not rule out the possibility of boycotting the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour reported on his comments:

Appearing in front of the foreign affairs select committee, Raab was asked about the possibility of Britain skipping the event in protest at human rights abuses. “Generally speaking, my instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics, but there comes a point when it is not possible,” said Raab.

“Let’s consider in the round what further action we need to take,” he added.

Raab also said that the attendance of prominent figures such as the Duke of Cambridge at the Games would also have to be “looked at very carefully”. [Source]

Raab is not the first member of Britain’s Conservative Party to float the possibility of a boycott. In an opinion piece for The Diplomat last month, Benedict Rogers, deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, proposed several ways that the U.K. could protest the 2022 Games, including limiting the size of its delegation: 

The best solution would be if the IOC agreed to change the location of the 2022 Winter Olympics because of atrocity crimes against Uyghurs, other grave human rights violations and the assault on Hong Kong. There are many potential hosts: South Korea (which held the last Winter Games), Japan, or farther afield in Switzerland, Norway, or Canada. There are many countries with the facilities and the weather conditions capable of hosting at short notice. That would be the best solution.

If that’s not an option, the second possibility would be for the political and official representatives of the free world to refuse to take part, just as many did with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. No royals, not even minor ones; no ministers, not even junior ones; no ambassadors or diplomats, not even any sporting committee members or chambers of commerce. No show. And there should also be public pressure on corporate sponsors and suppliers to withdraw. [Source]

Raab’s comments on Tuesday came as a chorus of 39 nations called today for an independent inquiry into the Chinese government’s actions against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. They denounced Beijing for its treatment of ethnic minorities and for curtailing civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Earlier this month, a coalition of over 160 human rights groups delivered a letter to the International Olympic Committee demanding that it relocate the 2022 Olympics away from China. At the time, the letter was reportedly the largest coordinated effort to call for a boycott of the games, and followed several months of calls from individual rights groups, including the World Uyghur Congress. The AP’s Stephen Wade reported that the coalition cited a lack of improvement in China’s human rights record since the last time it held the Olympics in 2008:

The letter said that the 2008 Olympics had failed to improve China’s human rights record, and that since then, it has built “an Orwellian surveillance network” in Tibet and incarcerated more than a million Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic group, in the Xinjiang region. It listed a litany of other alleged abuses from Hong Kong to the Inner Mongolia region, as well as the intimidation of Taiwan.

Asked Wednesday about preparations in China for the 2022 Olympics at an IOC news conference, Bach made no reference to human rights issues or the letter sent. [Source]

China’s lack of improvement in its human rights record is significant, because its promise to improve was integral to the country winning the right to hold the Olympics in 2008. But the run up to the Games ultimately saw a surge in repression and domestic human rights abuses. In an article discussing whether the world should boycott the 2022 Olympics, Dave Zirin and Jules Boykoff wrote:

The IOC is hamstrung by its own selective ethics. After all, it handed the 2008 Summer Olympics to Beijing after receiving assurance from China that hosting would spur improvements on the human rights front. To state the obvious, that didn’t happen. As Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch said, “The 2008 Beijing Games have put an end—once and for all—to the notion that these Olympics are a ‘force for good.’” She added, “The reality is that the Chinese government’s hosting of the Games has been a catalyst for abuses, leading to massive forced evictions, a surge in the arrest, detention, and harassment of critics, repeated violations of media freedom, and increased political repression.” And yet, in 2015, the IOC went ahead and chose Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, cramming this grim history down the memory hole.

Other groups, including the Editorial Board of the Washington Post, have publicly endorsed an Olympics boycott. And according to a recent U.S. public opinion poll, support for a boycott is not insubstantial. In an article for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, John Kuk and Nazita Lajevardi wrote that 40.8% of Americans in their study were in favor of boycotting the 2022 Olympics.

But for now, not all Western governments are in agreement about a boycott. On Wednesday, Australia’s sports minister Richard Colbeck was reluctant to endorse the possible action. He echoed Raab’s comments that in general, diplomacy should be kept separate from sport: “I share those instincts,” Senator Colbeck said.


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