Half-vaccinated workers. Casual racism. Bikini-bottom lengths. Covid-19 positive athletes. As much of a debacle as the Tokyo Summer Olympics is shaping up to be, its controversies could be eclipsed by next year’s Beijing Games, which American lawmakers want to postpone or relocate unless the Chinese government ends its “egregious human-rights abuses” on ethnic minorities.
In a letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, dated July 23, Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and James P. McGovern of Massachusetts, chair and co-chair of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said that “no Olympics should be held in a country whose government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity.”
Pressing forward in the face of mounting scrutiny of China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where Western governments and human-rights groups believe Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities are being subjected to mass detention, torture, forced labor, forced sterilization and forced assimilation, would “reflect extremely poorly” on both the Olympic movement and the international community, Merkley and McGovern wrote.
“To proceed with business as usual is implied consent and suggests the IOC has learned nothing from the Chinese government’s use of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to score propaganda wins and distract from its appalling human-rights record,” they said. “The IOC is on course to set a dark precedent where the behavior of future Olympic host governments is unconstrained by the international spotlight provided by the Olympic Games.”
Moving the Games on a dime isn’t unprecedented, the senators added. Last March, just four months before the Tokyo Olympics were scheduled to begin, the IOC and the Japanese government announced they were suspending the Games over coronavirus fears.
“This demonstrates that the IOC is capable of orchestrating a postponement of the Olympic Games on short notice,” they said. “If the Olympic Games can be postponed for a year for a pandemic, they can be postponed a year for a genocide.”
Beijing has consistently taken aim at allegations of Uyghur abuse, claiming that its actions are necessary to raise Xinjiang out of poverty and prevent extremism from gaining a foothold. It has also accused Western nations of trying to interfere in its domestic affairs.
The IOC previously told Sourcing Journal that it must remain neutral on all global political issues and that awarding the Games to a National Olympic Committee (NOC)—that is, host nation—does not mean it agrees with the “political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in its country.”
”The Olympic Games are governed by the IOC, not by governments,” a spokesperson said. “The IOC issues the invitation to NOCs to participate—the invitations do not come from the government of the host country. The host country’s head of state is allowed to say only one sentence, scripted by the IOC, to officially open the Games. No other politician is allowed to play any role whatsoever, not even during medal ceremonies.”
Despite its otherwise combative stance regarding China, which includes an all-but-certain ban on products from Xinjiang, the U.S. government has walked back claims that it was discussing a joint boycott with allied nations. Other Western powers have been more outspoken in that department, with the European Parliament recently approving a resolution calling on diplomatic officials to boycott the Beijing Games unless the Chinese government “demonstrates a verifiable improvement in the human-rights situation in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uyghur region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China.”
The British House of Commons, too, passed a motion earlier this month urging the British government to stage a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics as long as the Chinese Communist Party persists in its various “atrocities.”
“It is time for the government to stop sending mixed messages to Beijing and to toughen up on its response to the Chinese government’s abuses,” Conservative Member of Parliament Tim Loughton, the author of the motion, said at the time. “Authoritarian regimes have a long and troubling history of using the Olympics to whitewash their crimes and spread their propaganda on a global scale. The Chinese Communist Party knows this and so far is getting away with it.”
“It’s up to Britain and democratic states across the world to send a clear message to Beijing: we will not turn a blind eye to the abuses in the Uyghur Region, Tibet and Hong Kong, and we will not let you score a major propaganda victory at the Winter Olympics,” Loughton added.