The International Olympic Committee said last week it opposes a boycott of the Beijing Winter Games, turning down calls from activists citing China’s crackdown in Hong Kong and mass detentions in Xinjiang.

Thomas Bach, head of the IOC, said the committee is not a “super world government” that could solve issues for which “not a United Nations security council, no G7, no G20 has a solution.”

Bach, re-elected for the second and last term last Wednesday, dismissed the attempt at the end of a three-day IOC session. He also stressed the IOC’s political neutrality and that the committee is committed to strengthening human rights “within its remit.”

“Human rights and labor rights and others are and/or will be part of the host city contract and on this we are working very closely with the organising committee,” he said. “We are also monitoring...for instance, supply chains, labor rights, freedom of press and many other issues.”

China’s capital is set to host the Winter Games in the upcoming year after staging the Summer Games in 2008. The IOC has been criticized for granting the country the games given its worsening human rights record since then. Amnesty International foresees that the Olympic Charter’s human rights goals will be ignored once again in 2022.

The IOC, adopting the chater, vows to ensure “the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms” without discrimination based on race, religions, political opinions, and so on.

Government officials in Britain, Canada, and the United States have pushed for a boycott, and rights groups have started a “No Beijing 2022” campaign to call on countries to refuse to attend the games, which “embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent,” groups said in a joint letter.

In early February, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the Beijing games “a significant contribution China makes to the Olympic Movement.”

“All winter games lovers are looking forward to taking part in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics,” he said. “All preparation work for the games are well underway, which have won full recognition from the international community including the IOC.”

Wang warned against “disrupting” Beijing’s plan to hold the games by calling for a boycott. “Such actions will not be supported by the international community and will never succeed,” he added. Global Times said it would be a “farce” for Western countries to lead such a campaign.

To date, no country has yet declared a boycott for the games. But the state-run newspaper published an editorial last month, threatening countries that follow the call to expect sanctions.

“If any country is encouraged by extremist forces to take concrete actions to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, China will definitely retaliate fiercely,” the article reads. “China certainly has the resources and means to do that.”

China has a history of using trade as a tool of coercion. Last year alone, Australia saw China imposing punitive measures on its coal, wine, and barley. Taiwan’s pineapple imports were outright banned earlier this month after China claimed to have found pests in recent shipments.

With its economic clout, China is pressuring not only foreign governments but also international organizations, including the IOC. In 2017, e-commerce giant Alibaba signed a 11-year-deal, worth over US$1 billion, to become the leading sponsor of the Olympic games.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s Olympics Minister Tamayo Marukawa, IPC President Andrew Parsons, IOC President Thomas Bach, and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike hold the five-party meeting at the Tokyo 2020 headquarters in Tokyo, Japan March 3, 2021.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chinese government has been sending vaccine doses abroad, especially to developing countries, to shore up its international standing after the outbreak.

Last Friday, Bach announced that China has approved to offer vaccine doses to participants of this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo and the Winter Games in Beijing. The IOC has agreed to cover the cost.

The agreement came as a surprise to Japan. Marukawa Tamayo, the minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, said the IOC had not consulted the Japanese government in regards to the use of Chinese vaccines, which are not yet approved in the country. Japanese athletes would not take them, she added.

Marukawa said there is no change to Japan’s “principle of not making vaccinations a prerequisite” to participation in the summer games.

Wu’er Kaixi, a longtime democracy activist, referred to the IOC as “playing the role of a pawn in China’s ‘vaccine diplomacy.’” He said the Chinese government has been trying to avoid taking responsibility for the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic by having international organizations speak for themselves.

The vaccine deal with the IOC is also likely to help China deflect widespread criticism of its human rights record, the New York Times reports, including the suppression of basic freedoms in Hong Kong and the abuses of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

As early as 1956, countries have been using Olympic boycott as a gesture of protest. But Bach, the IOC chief, a spokesman for West German athletes fighting the 1980 Moscow Games boycott following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, said such a move achieves nothing.

“The Soviet army withdrew in 1989, so it really served nothing but punishing their own athletes and led to a counter-boycott in Los Angeles (in 1984).”

With activists calling on both leaders and athletes to boycott the Winter games in Beijing, Bach stressed, “Athletes would be the ones suffering.”

READ NEXT: With Vaccines in Hand, What’s Next for Taiwan’s Covid-19 Response?

TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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