A diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics is not enough

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President Biden’s decision to have his administration avoid the Beijing Winter Olympics is not enough.

With the Games two months away and the host country’s dismal human rights record back in the limelight, more needs to be done to send the message to China that it is operating outside the bounds of behavior. acceptable.

Yes, the diplomatic boycott announced this week by the Biden administration was a wise move, a public rebuke of China’s growing list of human rights atrocities, and a guarantee that US envoys would not. would not tacitly endorse these Games with their participation.

Human rights organizations have joined with the US government and lawmakers in several countries in describing China’s treatment of its Muslim ethnic minorities as genocide and in denouncing the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The pressure to hold China to the test has only increased in the weeks since Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star, disappeared from public view in November after accusing a top Communist Party leader of sexual assault.

Imagine the signal of prostration sent if Biden had attended the Beijing Games, as President George W. Bush did when China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, a move that gave legitimacy to a nation engaged in brutal repression in Tibet.

Too often, given the International Olympic Committee‘s track record in awarding the Games, the prospect of taking a stand against a host nation’s repressive government falls on the athletes. Take a stand during the Games and be questioned for not staying at home, or say nothing and be complicit in the transgression.

“To be silent is to be an accomplice,” said Clare Egan, the American biathlete, speaking on the phone this week from Austria, where she is preparing to compete in her second Winter Games.

Egan was the rare Olympian bound for Beijing ready to talk to me about China. Several athletes either categorically refused my questions or told me they would only talk about China in secret, fearing reprisals. One of those contestants expressed concern about safety at the Games and said the host nation’s recent record in canceling criticism underscored the need to be cautious.

It’s an unfair position for the Olympics workforce, most of whom toil for years in obscure sports that barely pay the bills. American and Soviet athletes exchanged state-ordered boycotts of the 1980 Moscow Games and 1984 Los Angeles Games. In 2020, the CEO of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee apologized to US competitors for the madness of the move.

“It is very clear in hindsight that the decision not to send a team to Moscow had no impact on world politics at the time and only harmed you – American athletes who were ‘were dedicated to excellence and the chance to represent the United States, ”Sarah Hirshland wrote.

Egan highlighted the complex role of big business in the Olympics. Athletes and teams receive crucial corporate funding. At the same time, companies also help pay for the Games and use them for marketing purposes – and wield serious influence.

“If I were the CEO of a company that was spending a lot of money sponsoring an event or organization, I would definitely want to make sure that this event or organization would reflect well on me,” said Egan said. , President of the Athletes’ Committee of the International Biathlon Union.

Sadly, that doesn’t happen in Beijing 2022, which some are calling the Genocide Games.

Instead of using their considerable influence to speak boldly about human rights in China – or, even louder, speak boldly and raise the stakes entirely – the corporate sponsors that support the Games and use the Games The Olympics as a marketing tool put profit before morality.

Yes, that means you, Visa. And you, Procter & Gamble. And you, Coca-Cola, Airbnb and many others who are among the biggest sponsors of the Games.

Large companies mostly seem to be lacking. Usually, right now, with the Olympics so close, we would be inundated with publicity touting the role of every company in supporting the next Games. Not this time.

Businesses know what we all know: The Beijing Games can hardly live up to the Olympic Games‘ stated ideals of being an example of the best of humanity.

Recall that the Beijing Winter Games were awarded to China in 2015, the year following the 2014 Winter Olympics. This event took place, of course, in Russia, another authoritarian nation that despises the rights and, in the Games it hosted, implemented one of the most devious and far-reaching doping programs in the history of sport.

Also remember the Beijing Summer Games in 2008, which gave China the shine of international legitimacy by violently suppressing dissent in Tibet.

Should we go back to the 1936 Games, organized by Hitler’s Berlin, to show that the Olympic Games have no qualms about offering one of the biggest sports platforms to odious dictators?

Calls to boycott diplomats or athletes have been greeted by some who say the IOC should move the Beijing Games to another location, even on short notice.

Instead of these protests, the next steps should come from the entities that have the most influence: the sponsors of the Games.

This summer, executives representing several US-based companies supporting the Games appeared before the Congressional Executive Committee on China and were asked for their views on Beijing 2022.

These companies have publicly demanded justice after the murder of George Floyd and months of race self-examination in America. But with rare exceptions, when pressed by lawmakers on an issue far from the shores of America in a country with a tantalizing boon of clients, their daring advocacy positions have faded with the wind.

When asked whether the upcoming Games should be moved or postponed, a consensus emerged among them: stay silent and wash your hands of real responsibility.

“We don’t make decisions about these host sites,” said Paul Lalli, Coca-Cola’s global vice president for human rights, as if the world’s powerful multinationals lack influence. “We support and follow athletes wherever they compete. “

Maybe companies should take inspiration from something Egan told me about the Olympic movement‘s political neutrality stance. “When you see something wrong, you shouldn’t just sit there and do nothing. “


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