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Thursday, August 11, 2022

A Diplomatic Boycott Is a Good Place to Begin, Sponsors Should Take the Lead Next

The decision by President Biden to have his government stay away from the Winter Olympics in Beijing is not sufficient in and of itself.

With the Games just two months away and the host country’s appalling record on human rights in the public eye once again, more must be done to send a message to China that it is operating beyond the lines of acceptable conduct in international affairs.

As a public protest to China’s expanding litany of human rights abuses, the diplomatic boycott announced this week by the Biden administration was a prudent decision. It served as an assurance that the United States’ diplomats would not provide tacit permission to the Games by their participation.

China’s treatment of ethnic Muslim minority has been described as genocide by human rights groups, who have joined the United States government and parliamentarians from a number of countries in criticising crackdowns on pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. The international community’s determination to hold China accountable has only strengthened in the weeks after the disappearance of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star, from public view in November after she accused a high Communist Party leader of sexual assault.

Imagine the kowtowing signal that would have been sent if President Joe Biden had visited the Beijing Games, as President George W. Bush did when China held the Summer Olympics in 2008, an act that would have given legitimacy to a government engaged in a harsh crackdown in Tibetan affairs.

Given the International Olympic Committee’s track record of awarding the Games, it is far too frequently the athletes who are faced with the option of taking a stance against a host country’s oppressive regime. Take a position while at the Games and risk being questioned about why you didn’t stay home, or keep silent and become complicit in violation.

Egan was one of the few Beijing-bound Olympians who was prepared to talk with me about China on the record. In response to my questions, some sportsmen either refused to answer them explicitly or said that they would only talk about China off the record for fear of retaliation. In one instance, a contestant voiced worries about safety during the Games and said that the host nation’s previous track record of putting down critics demonstrated the need to proceed with caution.

It is an unjust situation for the Olympic work force, the majority of whom have spent years toiling away in minor sports that barely cover their basic needs. Athletes from the United States and the Soviet Union swapped boycotts of the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Following the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the top executive of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee expressed regret to the American competitors for making such a foolish choice.

Egan drew attention to the complicated role played by big business in the Olympics. Corporations provide critical financial support to athletes and sports teams. Corporations, on the other hand, contribute financially to the Games and utilise them for marketing purposes, exerting significant influence.

In lieu of utilising their considerable weight to speak out courageously for human rights in China — or, even more boldly, speaking out loudly and pulling up stakes completely — the corporate sponsors that bankroll the Games and utilise the Olympics as a marketing tool are prioritising profits above morals.

The majority of big business seems to be keeping a quiet profile. The Olympics are almost around the corner, and we would normally be swamped with advertising highlighting each company’s part in supporting the upcoming Games at this point in the year.

Is it necessary to go back to the 1936 Games, which were hosted by Hitler’s Berlin, to demonstrate that the Olympics have no qualms about providing horrible tyrants with one of the most important platforms in sports?

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) invited CEOs from many firms with headquarters in the United States and who support the Games to testify before them this summer. They were asked for their opinions on the Beijing 2022 Games.

Following the death of George Floyd and months of introspection on the subject of race in America, these corporations took a public stance in support of justice. The only time their courageous stand for justice was tested was when they were confronted by politicians on an issue that took them far away from their own nation and into a place that offered them an alluring bounty of clients.

When asked whether the upcoming Games should be relocated or postponed, they all agreed on one thing: they should remain silent and absolve themselves of any genuine culpability.

Perhaps the businesses could take a hint from what Egan told me about the Olympic movement’s policy of political neutrality in its competition. ‘When you see anything wrong, you should not just sit back and do nothing,’ says the author.

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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