Should the United States and other democracies participate in a Winter Olympics hosted by a government that the Trump and Biden administrations have said was engaged in genocide?
The debate over whether to boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics is heating up, for the Games to open next February. The Biden administration says it is not currently discussing a boycott with its allies, but 180 human rights organizations have jointly suggested one, and there are also discussions in Canada and Europe on the opportunity to attend.
Olympic officials and business leaders protest that the Games are not political, but it is dishonest. Of course, they are political. Chinese leader Xi Jinping hosts Olympics for political reasons, to gain international legitimacy even as he gutters Hong Kong freedoms, jails lawyers and journalists, seizes Canadian hostages, threatens Taiwan and, more gruesome, presides over crimes against humanity in the distance. western region of Xinjiang which is home to several Muslim minorities.
It’s reasonable to ask: if the All-Star Game of baseball shouldn’t be played in Georgia because of that state’s voter suppression law, should the Olympics be held in the shadow of what? many qualify as genocide?
But first let’s ask the question: is what is happening in China really “genocide”?
Journalists, human rights groups and the State Department have documented a systematic effort to undermine Islam and local culture in Xinjiang. Perhaps a million people have been confined to what amounts to concentration camps. Detainees were tortured and children were taken from their families to be brought up in boarding schools and turned into loyal Communist subjects. Mosques were destroyed and Muslims were ordered to eat pork. Women have been raped and forcibly sterilized.
There is no mass murder in Xinjiang, as is necessary for the popular definition of genocide and for some dictionary definitions. Yet the 1948 Genocide Convention offers a broader definition that includes causing serious “mental harm”, birth prevention or “forcible transfer of children”, when they are part of an effort. systematic to destroy a particular group.
The result is that the repression in Xinjiang is not qualified as genocide as the term is normally used, but it meets the definition of the international convention.
Regarding the Beijing Games, here is my result: athletes should participate and television should broadcast the competition, but government officials and business should stay out. And I hope the athletes in Beijing take every opportunity to draw attention to the crackdown in Xinjiang or elsewhere.
The plain truth is that the much-watched Olympics give the world an influence to highlight human rights violations and increase the cost of repression. We should use this leverage.
Comprehensive boycotts, as the United States continued the 1980 Moscow Games and Russia initiated the 1984 Los Angeles Games, have largely failed. But a partial boycott, pushing officials and companies away while sending athletes and fortifying them to speak out, can express disapproval while also seizing a rare opportunity to shine a light on Xi Jinping’s brutality to the world. .
Companies that have already paid for sponsorship of the Games would be the losers, but that’s because they and the International Olympic Committee failed to push China to honor human rights promises. she had taken in winning the Games. And in any case, a corporate association with what critics have dubbed the “Genocide Olympics” might not be such a marketing triumph.
“Instead of ‘higher, faster, stronger’, these companies are getting ‘unjust incarceration, sexual abuse and forced labor,'” said Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch.
“There are a lot of tools besides a boycott,” Worden added. “The world’s attention is on Beijing, and the biggest pressure point on Xi Jinping’s China could be the Winter Olympics.”
At the 2006 Olympics, skater Joey Cheek used a press conference after winning a gold medal to draw attention to the genocide in Darfur; the winning athletes next year could do the same for Xinjiang.
The IOC has tried to ban human rights symbols and gestures as non-Olympians, but it’s ridiculous. The most famous gestures in Olympic history took place in 1968, when sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists in protest against black power; denounced for years, they are now celebrated as moral leaders and have been inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame.
Athletes who would wear “Save Xinjiang” or “End the Genocide” t-shirts next year might get into trouble with Olympic officials, but one day they too would be considered heroes.
Canadians debate boycott of the Games, but more could be done if Canada decided to send athletes and allowed them to wear shirts or buttons in honor of the “Two Michaels” – Canadian citizens than China taken hostage and brutally abused. It might be more likely to free men than any Canadian boycott.
The Olympics give us leverage. Instead of throwing it away, make President Xi fear every day how we might use it.
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