Last month we reported that United States President Joe Biden was considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. Yesterday it was confirmed.
“The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home. But, we will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games in light of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses. We have a fundamental commitment to promoting human rights. And we feel strongly in our position and we will continue to take actions to advance human rights in China and beyond. It cannot be business as usual.”
– White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki
A diplomatic boycott means that only athletes and backroom staff would travel to China. No US officials would attend the games.
I applaud President Biden’s strong leadership in announcing that there will be no official U.S. diplomatic presence at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 6, 2021
China reacted angrily to the announcement, saying the US would “pay the price for its wrongdoing”, and promised retaliation and resolute countermeasures.
“The US attempt to interfere with the Beijing Winter Olympics out of ideological prejudice, based on lies and rumors, will only expose its sinister intentions. The Winter Olympics are not a stage for political shows and political manipulation. Their actions interfere in and undermine the Beijing Winter Olympics.”
– Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian
Human rights advocates have been urging countries to boycott the Winter Olympic Games to hold China accountable for its record on human rights. Australia are also considering a diplomatic boycott.
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.
Groups alleging human-rights abuses against minorities in China call for a full boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing https://t.co/tO6SfbsHpj
— Businessweek (@BW) May 25, 2021
China has a recent history of human rights abuse. One of the recent notable cases is the relationship with Hong Kong. Many 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.
I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 18, 2021
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 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.”
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.