In the winter of 2022, just 12 months from now the eyes of the world will be on China. The Winter Olympic Games will include 109 events over 15 disciplines in 7 winter sports. Athletes from over eighty countries will flock to the self-proclaimed people’s republic next year to compete. Yet, as Beijing prepares to host this 24th winter olympiad, an outright genocide occurs within the state.
Since being selected as host in 2015, much has happened within China’s borders that should concern any citizen of the civilized world. The treatment of the Hong Kong protestors and blatant breaking of an international treaty in the form of the 1984 Sino-British agreement, had already painted the CCP in a negative light. On Covid-19, the slow release of information to the WHO and general cover-up of cases severed any trust which remained with Chinese officials. On the world stage, their false claim to Taiwan and use of hostage diplomacy weakened their standing even further, and it seems the final straw in the public mood was the cultural genocide on the Uighur people in Xinjiang, or what I would prefer to call East Turkistan. Yet is it right for politics and sport to mix like this? Is this enough to warrant a mass boycott of the games less than a year from its opening ceremony?
Looking back on history there are 3 different ways to handle a tyrannical nation at the Olympic games:
Firstly there is the Jesse Owens, ‘stick it to the man’ style approach we saw in 1936. The man in this situation was Adolf Hitler, in a Germany where the mistreatment of ethnic minorities, such as the German Jewish population, and the disabled, was being noticed. Although boycotting was speculated, the decision was made to attend with a brilliantly diverse American athletics team smashing Hitler’s Aryan philosophy out of the park. This approach was almost repeated in the 1968 games under the shadow of racial segregation in America. Instead, many black athletes opted for the black power salute in a fist of defiance against African American discrimination.
The second method truly would entangle politics with sports in boycotting the games completely. This has happened multiple times due to a range of issues throughout the 20th century. The Cold war brought East and West to blows over the 1980 and 1984 games, held by the Soviet Union and United States respectively. The 1976 games saw many African countries boycott the games on apartheid grounds. Finally, in 1956 some states refused to compete due to the Anglo-French invasion of the Suez as well as condemnation of Soviet intervention in Hungary. In these games the Hungarian team became the flag bearers for anti-Soviet sentiments, with tensions running high throughout.
The third option would be a happy compromise for many. In the Moscow games of 1980, Team GB were in attendance whilst 65 countries led by the US decided to boycott the games. Both the Foreign Office and Number 10 had condemned the Olympic Committee’s decision to attend with the PM saying “The Games will serve the propaganda needs of the Soviet Government”. The decision was then made for a singular athlete to parade the neutral Olympic flag with the Olympic anthem played as opposed to ‘God Save the Queen’. Each sporting body however was allowed to decide their own position with 4 events deciding not to attend. 16 nations choose to follow these actions in defiance against communist intervention.
To date, not one summer or winter Olympic game has been boycotted by the British Olympic Committee. It would be quite a coup for the 2022 Winter Games to be our first, and if so, it would send a truly powerful message around the world. The decision however is rightly in the hands of the committee and its chair, Former Conservative MP and Foreign Office minister Sir Hugh Robertson. It’s decision time.
As a conservative, I have always been a supporter of Britain leading on the world stage, fighting its corner for the rules-based international system we fought so hard to maintain. Yet with this, I have disdain in saying that I fear that the current leadership in the Foreign Office has been ultimately weak on this scene. The last government official who spoke on this subject was Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on the 6th October stating – “My instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics but there comes a point where that may not be possible.”
His new US counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also made a lackluster statement saying – “That’s something we’ll come to at the right time, in the right moment.” Frankly, the West is barely talking the talk, let alone walking the walk when it comes to China.
With the perpetrators of these crimes lying in the corridors of power and not the streets of Shanghai, Our response needs to focus on exactly that. The thought of our national flag, anthem, and sporting heroes being paraded around a stadium under the watchful eye of President Xi, is horrific. No matter how you think we as a nation should react, it’s clear that the UK cannot attend the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in good conscience. A protest against genocide must be made, and I can think of no better stage to perform on than the Olympics. After all, moral protest in the wake of genocide is far better than doing nothing!