'Morally frightening': Concerns over calls for Winter Olympics boycott

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·3-min read
Activists, pictured here calling for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Activists calls for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Image: Getty

Sports historian John MacAloon says the prospect of countries boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing "morally frightening for the whole Olympic movement".

Call to boycott the Games come from the widely reported internment of Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China, which has been termed a genocide by human rights groups.

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A broad coalition representing Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kong, and Chinese democracy campaigners is pushing for everything from a hard boycott, to a so-called diplomatic boycott.

Activists have also been reaching out to national Olympic committees, athletes and sponsors after failing to get the International Olympic Committee to move the games out of China.

Beijing is the first city to win the right to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

President Thomas Bach recently said the IOC must stay out of politics, although it holds observer status at the United Nations and Bach has touted his own efforts to unite the two Koreas.

“We are not a super-world government where the IOC could solve or even address issues for which not the UN security council, no G7, no G20 has solutions,” Bach told a news conference.

China says “political motives” underlie the boycott effort, describing the camps as vocational centres.

“China firmly rejects the politicisation of sports and opposes using human rights issues to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said recently.

He said an effort at a boycott “is doomed to failure.”

MacAloon, a sports historian and professor of social sciences at the University of Chicago, has advised Olympic organising committees in the past.

Guo Weimin, pictured here at a news conference at the media centre in Beijing.
Guo Weimin arrives at a news conference at the media centre in Beijing. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

"If China maintains its ethnocidal practices at all costs while President Xi has an Olympic Games to declare open and preside over, and if it's impossible now to for the IOC to ensure an Olympics for the athletes anywhere else, even if it wished to then what is the IOC to do in facing up to this situation?" he wrote in the Journal of OIympic Studies recently.

"The prospects are, in my opinion, morally frightening for the whole Olympic movement."

The IOC reportedly generates revenue of US$5 billion during a four-year Olympiad cycle.

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On Tuesday, Australia and New Zealand condemned human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

But they have not followed international allies by imposing sanctions on Chinese officials.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne and her Kiwi counterpart Nanaia Mahuta raised grave concerns over a growing number of reports about abuses committed by the Chinese government.

The pair cited restrictions on the freedom of religion, mass surveillance, extra-judicial detentions, forced labour and sterilisation.

Protesters, pictured here shaking hands in front of the IOC headquarters.
Protesters with masks bearing Chinese President Xi and IOC President Thomas Bach shake hands in front of the IOC headquarters during a protest against the 2022 Winter Olympics. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

They welcomed sanctions announced overnight by the United States, Canada, European Union and the United Kingdom.

"We share these countries' deep concerns, which are held across the Australian and New Zealand communities," they said in a joint statement.

The trans-Tasman nations have called on China to respect the human rights of Uighur people and other religious and ethnic minorities since reports about the Xinjiang detention camps began to emerge in 2018.

"Today, we underscore the importance of transparency and accountability, and reiterate our call on China to grant meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for United Nations experts, and other independent observers," the ministers said.

with agencies

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