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IOC Under Pressure to Change Host for 2022 Olympic Games Citing China Human Rights Record

Several outspoken Republicans are pushing for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, and over 180 human rights groups are calling for a “diplomatic” boycott, expressing concern that United States’ participation would “embolden” and “legitimize” China, a country currently committing genocide against its Uighur Muslim population, alongside a long list of other human rights violations.

“The Chinese Communist Party has carried out a number of heinous acts in the last year alone that should disqualify them from hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics. The world cannot legitimize the CCP’s acts of genocide in Xinjiang, destruction of the democratic rights of Hong Kong, and dangerous suppression of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan that cost lives by sending delegations to Beijing,” said Representative Michael Waltz to The Foreign Desk, who introduced a resolution with Rep. Reschenthaler Feb. 15, pushing for the U.S. to fully boycott the Olympic Games if the host site is not changed.

While recognizing the “power in a boycott” as presented by Republican leaders, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is calling specifically for a “diplomatic” boycott in which governments would “refuse to send diplomats to the Games to show that they do not support China’s abuse of Uyghurs. It’s a matter of signaling the illegitimacy of the Chinese government in hosting an international sporting event like this,” said UHRP’s Senior Program Officer for Advocacy and Communication Peter Irwin to The Foreign Desk.

The Biden administration has yet to clearly state whether the U.S. will boycott the games but seems to be waiting on guidance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

“It’s…an uphill battle with the IOC,” said Irwin, “given that it’s leaders have signaled that they simply don’t care about what’s happening in the Uyghur region.”

The IOC has not published an official statement on their website addressing the Uighur genocide but quickly published a statement Feb. 9 addressing sexist comments made by Tokyo’s President Mori, saying that “the recent comments of Tokyo 2020 President Mori were absolutely inappropriate and in contradiction to the IOC’s commitments.”

The statement emphasized that “the athletes, all Olympic stakeholders and the general public can rest assured that the IOC will continue to deliver on its commitment to gender equality, inclusivity, solidarity, and non-discrimination.”

However, when directly asked about the IOC’s stance on the push to boycott the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, the IOC told The Foreign Desk that “given the diverse participation in the Olympic Games, the IOC must remain neutral on all global political issues.”

The IOC expressed that “awarding the Olympic Games to a National Olympic Committee (NOC) does not mean that the IOC agrees with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in its country,” avoiding any mention of the sterilization of women, forced labor, torture, rape, and systematic persecution of the Uighur population.

“We received assurances that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be respected in the context of the Games,” said the IOC.

The IOC cites past boycotts of the Olympics including the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which “destroyed the dreams and careers of thousands of athletes from all over the world, and deprived athletes of their rights; but they never achieved any of the political objectives intended by the governments.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley acknowledges the disappointment athletes would face due to a boycott; however, she makes clear her support for the boycott considering what is at stake.

“While my heart would break for our great athletes, their concerns must be weighed against the suffering of millions of people, and the millions more under threat. Individual and national athletic glory are not as important as upholding America’s guiding principles,” said Haley to The Foreign Desk.

A coalition of over 180 human rights groups, including UHRP, says that the IOC has ignored all of its attempts to prevent the IOC from allowing China to host the Games.

“For two decades, our coalition, members of frontline communities, and numerous human rights groups have repeatedly sought to…explain the dangers of awarding China the Olympic Games, and caution against accepting any human rights assurances from one of the world’s worst human rights violators,” the coalition wrote in an Open Letter to Governments in February.

Considering China’s record of silencing journalists and government opposition, Irwin expressed several concerns about the safety and rights of those who will be reporting on and participating in the Beijing Olympic Games.

“Will an athlete be arrested if they tweet in support of Uyghurs or Hong Kong?” asked Irwin.

“Similarly, will journalists travelling to Beijing for the Games be provided space to do critical reporting? Given that there’s been a strong trend of ejecting journalists from China, will broadcasters, who pay millions for the right to broadcast the Games, get assurances from the IOC that their journalists will be safe?”

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