The Beijing 2022 Olympics boycott debate

Months before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, governments wonder if they are boycotting the games. Dozens of rights groups advocate a total boycott of human rights violations committed by China in Xinjiang and other regions, while some experts and policymakers have offered alternatives.

Why boycott the Beijing Olympics?

More of our experts

China faces heavy criticism for its human rights record. Several countries, including the United States, have accused China of committing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, claims China denies. Rights groups have also drawn attention to Beijing’s crackdown in Tibet and its crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong.

Safer:

China

Olympic Games

Human rights

US foreign policy

Diplomacy and international institutions

A coalition of nearly two hundred human rights groups argues that participating in the Beijing Olympics would turn a blind eye to such abuses and could be seen as “an endorsement of the authoritarian regime of the Communist Party of China.” The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which organizes and oversees the games, has sought to avoid controversy, reaffirming that it maintains a “neutral” position on political issues.

The Beijing Winter Olympics are scheduled to begin in February 2022, less than a year after the postponed Tokyo Olympics were held.
Lintao Zhang / Getty Images

What motivated past boycotts?

Full boycotts – when governments refuse to send athletes, officials and spectators to the host country – have happened a handful of times for a variety of reasons.

Notable examples include the 1976 games, when more than two dozen African nations boycotted the Montreal Olympics after the IOC refused to ban New Zealand, whose rugby team ignored an international sports embargo. to visit apartheid South Africa. Four years later, the United States carried out a boycott of the Moscow Olympics in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union retaliated in 1984, boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics. The last full boycott dates back to 1988, when North Korea and its allies skipped the Olympics in Seoul.

More of our experts

Do boycotts work?

Experts say it is difficult to measure the success of a boycott. “Boycotts have impacts in a variety of ways that are almost always indirect, almost always over a relatively long period of time, and sometimes counterproductive,” says David Black, a professor at Dalhousie University who studies sports and international diplomacy. .

For example, Black says, the Soviet Union did not leave Afghanistan because of the 1980 boycott, but the boycott eroded the prestige it hoped to gain from the games and signaled growing disapproval of Moscow’s actions.

Safer:

China

Olympic Games

Human rights

US foreign policy

Diplomacy and international institutions

In the case of the Beijing 2022 Olympics, many experts say a boycott is unlikely to work and could make it even more difficult to get concessions from China. Some say the governments and media concerned could instead use the 2022 games to draw attention to China’s abuses.

What are the alternatives to a total boycott?

Countries, including the United States, have not yet decided to boycott. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in June that Washington was working with partners to “establish a common approach.”

That said, there are several alternatives to a full boycott:

Diplomatic boycott. In this scenario, world leaders and other officials refuse to attend, but the athletes continue to compete. Several members of the US Congress support this approach.

Move. Some lawmakers in the United States, the United Kingdom and several countries in the European Union have called for the 2022 Olympics to be moved to another country if China does not stop persecuting Uyghurs. Experts say the IOC is unlikely to consider a relocation, which would likely require a postponement to that late date.

The athlete protests. Athletes can boycott the games themselves or use the media spotlight to make political statements. Although it is banned by the IOC, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee has said it will not sanction US athletes for protests. Still, some experts warn that athletes who do so could face repercussions.

Sponsors actions. Activists are also pressuring corporate sponsors, such as Airbnb and Coca-Cola, to withdraw their support, although none have yet done so. When the Financial Time Asked the thirteen companies that have major sponsorship deals with the IOC about their plans, eleven declined to comment.

Would China retaliate?

China’s Foreign Ministry has warned of a “vigorous response” to any boycott, and experts point out that Beijing has several avenues to retaliate.

The Chinese government could suspend bilateral trade and participation in global talks, such as those on climate change; disrupt trade; and sanction foreign officials. Indeed, there are countless examples in recent years of Beijing retaliating against foreign actions it disapproved of.

China could also take advantage of its large consumer market of 1.4 billion people to hurt companies that withdraw support for games. For example, earlier this year brands such as H&M and Nike were boycotted by parts of the Chinese public after the companies announced they would stop using cotton from Xinjiang. “If Beijing finds that it has lost face, it could react quite strongly,” said Yanzhong Huang of CFR.

Comments are closed.