By Sophia Rottman
Beijing is hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, but activists and politicians have begun to question whether or not countries should attend due to the human rights abuses occurring in China. The abuse of Uighur people in the Xinjiang province, has been declared by a House of Commons subcommittee to meet the definition of genocide. The treatment of the Uighurs is the primary focus of the calls to boycott the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Evidence has been provided to the Canadian government from witnesses, interviewed by the subcommittee, documenting what Uighur people have faced in the concentration camps in Xinjiang. This terror comprises of a range of abuse including physical, psychological and sexual with the aim of conforming them to mainstream Chinese culture. It was also discovered that in an attempt to decrease the population size of Uighurs, officials in China have been forcing sterilization, pressuring abortions and intrauterine contraceptive devices. All of this concludes with the report urging the Canadian government to take action against this brutality. The Chinese government continues to deny these statements and say the camps are only for religious extremists and are providing education and teaching vocational skills. If countries attend the Olympics in Beijing, assuming the current human rights abuses continue, it would illustrate a disturbing mentality that life should go on as usual while a genocide occurs.
The saying “ignorance is bliss” is reflective of the current situation. Countries have slowly begun to acknowledge the severity of the human rights abuses in China, but still have yet to take action against it. They likely fear the repercussions of global tension and the difficulty it could cause. Worldwide human rights organizations have asked the International Olympic Committee to move the location of the games and a few politicians including two from the U.S. and Australia have expressed their concern.
Problems that could arise from boycotting the Olympic Games include the possibility of political and economic retaliation. Boycotts also have consequences for the athletes who have worked tirelessly for this moment. Countries should question their decision to attend the Games and if demonstrating their stance on the inhumane genocide of Uighur people is a priority. If there are not progressive changes made soon, attending the Games in Beijing will ignore the evidence of genocidal practices and the Chinese government will gain economic profit and political acceptance of the human rights abuses they are committing.
The 1936 Games in Berlin and the 1980 Games in Moscow are two Olympic boycotts from recent history. The 1936 boycott, over Nazi beliefs and practices, only resulted in a few individual athletes not attending instead of entire countries. Avery Brundage, then president of the American Olympic Committee, opposed the boycott and was quoted saying “the Olympic Games belong to the athletes and not to the politicians.” Whereas the boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow was led by the U.S. and followed by a few other countries, as they opposed the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. Olympic boycotts are a crossroad of sports and politics, always spurring divisive opinions. There are strong opposing views at this junction. Some people have the mindset that politics should be left on the sidelines and others believe that professional and amateur sports is a platform to take a stand and should not ignore horrific problems occurring in the same world sphere.
A notable and recent example of polarity at this crossroad was Colin Kaepernick’s action of kneeling during the U.S. national anthem during National Football League (NFL) games. This began during the 2016 preseason and was done to protest the oppression minorities face in the United States. However, some fans, politicians and league officials viewed this as disrespectful to the national anthem and the country. Ultimately because of his action he has not played an NFL game since the end of the 2016 season and a widespread debate on making political statements in sports began.
What if the 1936 Berlin Games had been widely boycotted? It could have conveyed an effective message to Nazi Germany that their ideologies were not going to be tolerated by the international community. Instead countries attended, while aware of the beliefs and goals of the fascist government. They did not condemn it and accepted the continuation of their discriminatory practices while participating in the Games. The Beijing 2022 Games will be an opportunity for countries to demonstrate on a world stage that they will not stand by while human rights abuses or genocide occur.
The reasons to boycott the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing are not just the mere matter of politics. It goes beyond political disputes, such as tariffs and conflicts in international relations; it is because of a horrendous genocide. Similarly, Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel wasn’t because he was tired and felt like it. He knelt because, as he was quoted saying, taking a stance on minority oppression was “bigger than football.” Celebrating the Olympics and sports is something that every country can agree on, which is a rarity in and of itself, but now is the time to use a boycott to take a stance on condemning genocide.