US President Joe Biden Considering Diplomatic Boycott of 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China

SnowBrains | | OlympicsOlympics
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A worker checks on a countdown board for the 2022 Winter Olympics in China. Credit: VCG

United States President Joe Biden announced yesterday that his administration is considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

A diplomatic boycott would mean that only athletes and backroom staff would travel to China. No US officials would attend the games.

When asked about the boycott yesterday, Biden said it was “something we are considering.”

Human rights advocates have been urging countries to boycott the Winter Olympic Games to hold China accountable for its record on human rights.

Several groups and individuals have called for a boycott of the Winter Olympics, citing human-rights abuses against minorities by the Chinese government. As the list of objectors continues to grow, the appeals for a boycott have become tough to ignore.

The leading stance for a boycott comes from a coalition representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong residents, and other minority groups. The group suggests the idea of “diplomatic” boycotts that others have proposed is superficial. Instead, their directive outlines a full-blown boycott from competing nations, urging them not to attend the Games at all. Initially, representatives from different groups met with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to pitch moving the 2022 Winter Games from China. After the IOC decided that they would not move the Games, the call for a hard boycott began.

China has a recent history of human rights abuse. One of the recent notable cases is the relationship with Hong Kong. A large number of Hong Kong residents have advocated for democracy and separation from China. Their efforts have seen a crackdown on pro-democracy activists as China seeks to hold authoritarian control over Hong Kong. Officials have gone so far as to criminalize any insults against the Chinese national anthem.

China has also restricted the freedoms of religion and beliefs of its people. On February 1st, the Chinese government enacted regulations stating that religious groups must “follow the leadership of the Communist Party of China… persist in the direction of sinicization of religion, and practice core socialist values.” Most notably, China restricts religious practices in Tibet and oppresses the Uyghur Muslims living in the Xinjiang region. In addition, the Chinese government has reportedly detained over 1 million Uyghurs in reeducation camps for the “crime” of being Muslim.

Many high-profile politicians have joined the call to boycott the Beijing Winter Games. Former UK Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has spoken up, while the US Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, asked the US government not to attend the Games during a Congressional hearing. Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern called for a delay and relocation of the Games to 2023. Republican Chris Smith suggested corporate sponsors should be held accountable for supporting the games at the same hearing.

As appeals for a boycott continue to grow, athletes are put in an increasingly difficult position. Athletes across most sports are beginning to use their platforms to speak about what they believe in more and more. However, the thought of abandoning a shot at competing in the Olympics is tough to swallow. Some activists argue the IOC has put them in this position by choosing not to relocate the Games, but this still puts tremendous pressure on the Olympic athletes. Either way, calling upon athletes to give up a once-in-a-lifetime dream is a hard ask. Mikaela Shiffrin was outspoken about the position athletes are in.

“You certainly don’t want to be put in the position of having to choose between human rights like morality versus being able to do your job, which on the other hand can bring light to some issues or can actually bring hope to the world at a very difficult time.”

-Mikaela Shiffrin

The International Olympic Committee has said policing host countries’ human rights records is outside its scope, adding that the Games should be “respected as politically neutral ground.”

The Beijing Winter Olympics begin on February 4th.

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