The Genocide Games: Beijing Winter Olympics 2022
Updated: Dec 16, 2022
By Shari Gordnier
In July of 2020, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) asking to postpone or relocate the 2022 Beijing Winter Games if China did not end its genocide of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. The IOC responded saying it must remain neutral on all global political issues. The IOC maintained that it is committed to the human rights outlined in the Olympic Charter and the 2020 “Recommendations for an IOC Human Rights Strategy”, however, their failure to act on the 2022 Games does not reflect the protection of human rights. By allowing the 2022 Winter Games to continue the IOC is complicit in genocide.
Sportswashing is when a state hosts an international sporting event in order to distract from bad press and increase its government’s reputation. The 2022 Beijing Olympics pulls international attention away from the egregious human rights abuses and acts of genocide committed by the Chinese government in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, and throughout the entire state. Commentators and human rights advocates alike have dubbed the 2022 Beijing Olympics “The Genocide Games.”
Currently, in Xinjiang, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has imprisoned over one million Uyghurs in internment camps. In these camps, Uyghurs are subject to torture, forced sterilization, sexual violence, and CCP propaganda.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that title has been given, as the 2008 Beijing Summer Games were also called The Genocide Games. In 2008 much of the attention was on the cultural genocide of Tibetans; while there were protests around the globe over the games, they continued as scheduled. The situation in Tibet has continued to worsen since the 2008 Games with new programs of cultural genocide that make it harder for Tibetans to practice religion, erase the Tibetan language, and forced relocation efforts. Now, the 2022 Games are set to continue not only with the ongoing issues in Tibet, but also under new anti-democratic policies in Hong Kong, cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, and the Uyghur Genocide.
The Olympics are a time of celebration, comradery, and international unity, genocide should not be able to hide in its shadow. Leading up to the 2022 Games, Genocide Watch will be publishing a series of blogs covering the linkages between genocide and the Olympics to highlight the lack of response from the international community to the Uyghur genocide and advocate for better human rights advocacy from the IOC.
The Olympics are a symbol of what we as an international community are able to accomplish when we come together. The Olympic Charter states that “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” At the Games, people from around the world come together to compete and build community with each other.
By allowing the Games to take place in a country that is actively genociding its citizens the IOC is throwing away its goals and dirtying the legacy of peaceful competition and celebration of humanity it is meant to be.
The IOC awarded China the 2022 Winter Olympic Games before reports began to emerge about mass detentions of Uyghurs in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR, Xinjiang). The IOC has refused to take a stand on the genocide by continuing to move forward with the games despite the detailed reports of continued persecution. Genocide Watch considers China to be at Stage 9: Extermination and Stage 10: Denial.
Since 1949 when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power they have executed numerous campaigns and policies aimed at increasing the Han population in Xinjiang to assert more control of the mineral and natural resource-rich region. While oppressive measures have always been part of the CCP’s policy towards Xinjiang, they began to escalate in 2013 with the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an initiative designed to increase trade via the construction of new roads, ports, and other infrastructure internationally, which relies heavily on the CCP having complete control over Xinjiang.
The CCP continued to increase its oppression in Xinjiang by targeting the Uyghurs under the guise of anti-terror policies. In 2017, reports of mass detentions in “Re-Education” camps began to surface where Uyghurs are tortured, beaten, raped, forced to recite CCP propaganda, renounce their religious beliefs, and many families never see their loved ones again after they are detained. Despite international reporting and condemnation of these camps, they continue to operate, and the CCP denies any wrongdoing. In the past year and a half, additional reports have begun to emerge regarding Uyghurs being used for slave labor and forcibly relocated to other provinces and cities within China to act as factory workers. The issue of slave labor has become entrenched in the debate around the 2022 Winter Games.
Juan Antonio Samaranch Salisachs is chairman of the IOC’s coordination commission for the 2022 Olympics. He also runs the Samaranch Foundation which is funded by the Chinese sportswear company ANTA Sports, which repeatedly pledged to continue to use cotton produced in Xinjiang despite accusations regarding the use of slave labor. Additionally, the IOC awarded the official uniform contract for both the Tokyo 2021 and Beijing 2022 Olympics to the Hengyuanxiang (HYX) Group. HYX Group boasts about its use of Xinjiang cotton and operates an affiliated factory in Xinjiang.
The IOC has repeatedly stated that while it is committed to upholding human rights it must remain neutral on all global political issues and therefore cannot move or delay the 2022 Games. However, being sponsored by and employing companies that proudly state their ties to slave labor is not a statement of neutrality—it is a statement of support. The CCP is committing genocide and the IOC is profiting from it.
For more information on the Uyghur Genocide visit: https://www.genocidewatch.com//country-pages/people's-republic-of-china
Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Hong Kong
The 2022 Winter Games are not the first Olympics China has hosted, and they are also not the first to be embroiled in controversy over human rights abuses and genocide. The 2008 Summer Games hosted by Beijing were also embroiled in controversy over cultural genocide in Tibet. The lead up to the 2008 Games was marked by pro-Tibet protests. Major protests occurred in London and San Francisco when the Olympic flame was present.
Tibet has been the target of cultural genocide, “the systematic destruction of traditions, values, language, and other elements that make one group of people distinct from another,”
since 1959 when it was officially incorporated into modern-day China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has instituted policies of targeted erasure of the Tibetan culture, language, and religious practice in an effort to promote the CCP’s vision of one uniform Chinese culture. Tibet, in many ways, lay the groundwork for the genocide China has been carrying out in Xinjiang and the policies it is beginning to implement in Inner Mongolia.
As most of the international attention falls on genocide in Xinjiang and Tibet, it is important not to forget the people of Inner Mongolia who are experiencing many of the same policies. The Mongolian Language is being phased out of schools and ethnic Mongolians are being targeted to integrate into Han Chinese culture. The CCP’s language programs in Inner Mongolia run under the slogan, “Learn Chinese and become a civilized person.” Classrooms in Inner Mongolia are being purged of historical and cultural materials that reference traditional Mongolian culture. Many ethnic Mongolians also practice Tibetan Buddhism so policies that the CCP has implemented in Tibet to crackdown on its practice are also impacting ethnic Mongolians.
The policies that the CCP is implementing in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia are egregious and deserve to be condemned by the IOC and supporting the 2022 Olympic Games, but they are unlikely to directly impact anyone participating in the Games. The same cannot be said for the laws the CCP has established in Hong Kong. Beijing has placed serious limitations on the once-free press of Hong Kong and broadened its reach on internet surveillance. These methods of surveillance and silencing which were perfected in Hong Kong are now posing risks to Olympic coverage and participants. American athletes have been advised to bring burner phones to the games to avoid possible cyberattacks, and the mandatory health app for the Winter Olympics has been found to ban keywords related to human rights in China and has significant security flaws.
The crackdown on the free press not only in Hong Kong but in all of China also poses concerns for international journalists who travel to Beijing to cover the Games. NBC, who has the broadcasting rights for the Games, has stated that it will include the geopolitical context of the Games while focusing on the athletes. This will undoubtedly be challenging as reporters attempt to do the circumstances justice, while not violating Chinese laws that are extremely harsh towards any critique of the CCP.
By allowing Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics without any form of condemnation for its genocidal actions the IOC is not only legitimizing the CCP’s oppression in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Hong Kong but placing athletes and reporters who do speak out at risk.
To learn more about the cultural genocide of Tibet visit: https://www.genocidewatch.com/ Genocide Watch Histories Powerpoints: Tibet
Protest requires individuals to acknowledge that what is happening around them is unacceptable and push for change. It’s a reclamation of power. It requires determination. It requires courage. The Olympic Charter defines Olympism, the spirit that the Games are meant to evoke and champion as, “Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of a good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” The act of protesting against an authoritarian government’s genocide of its own people is well in line with the ideals of Olympism.
Despite the ideal of social responsibility and respect for universal ethical principles, the Olympics have a tumultuous relationship with athlete protests. Current IOC President Thomas Bach has stated that “Our [the IOC’s] political neutrality is undermined whenever organizations or individuals attempt to use the Olympic Games as a stage for their own agendas, as legitimate as they may be.” This stance is in line with Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which dictates, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas,” which has been on the books since 1975. The most well-known instance of athletes protesting during the Games was during the 1968 Mexico City Games where Tommie Smith and John Carlos, American sprinters, accepted their medals barefoot and listened to the anthem with bowed heads and a raised fist to protest the treatment of Black people worldwide.
Protesting at the Olympic games is not without risk or consequence. Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa took silver in the men’s marathon at the 2016 Rio Games. As he crossed the finish line he raised his arms and crossed his wrists emulating being shackled to protest the treatment of the Oromo people in Ethiopia. After his protest, Lilesa was not able to return home for fear of being killed or imprisoned until 2018 when reforms, instituted by Prime Minister Abiy, allowed him to feel safe in returning home.
Concerns about athlete protests during the 2022 Winter Games have grown since the close of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Prior to the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC loosened its protest rules allowing for athletes to make symbolic gestures before competitions (think raised fists or taking a knee) but remained firm on its stance that the medal stand is not a place for protest. While athletes may not face repercussions from the IOC for protests prior to competition, a spokesperson for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has stated that “Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment.” This statement is especially concerning given the disappearance of Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star, in November after she claimed a member of the CCP sexually assaulted her. Critics of the CCP regularly face persecution and imprisonment in China, and while the CCP is unlikely to risk the international backlash for severely punishing a foreign athlete, various human rights organizations are warning athletes against protesting at the games.
While it remains to be seen whether the CCP will have to deal with protests against its human rights abuses and genocidal practices during the games, there has been no shortage of protests leading up to their start. The lighting of the Olympic torch at the Olympia in November was met with protestors brandishing a banner that read “No Genocide Games.” Additional protests were staged around the world including in London, Belgium, and Jakarta, all calling for action to be taken against China for its genocide of the Uyghur people and using the Olympics as a platform to amplify their voice. These people are embodying the spirit of Olympism.
The United States announced a diplomatic boycott, meaning that while American athletes would still compete no US diplomats would attend, the 2022 Beijing Games in December of 2021 due to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) genocide of the Uyghur people and other human rights abuses. Since then, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, and Great Britain, have joined the United States in a formal boycott, and Japan has stated that it will not send any high-ranking officials to the Games, but stopped short of declaring an official diplomatic boycott.
This is not the first time that states have chosen not to attend the Olympic Games due to political reasons. The largest was the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games where over 40 states withdrew from the Games due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Cold War boycott differed from the current boycott by barring athletes as well as diplomats from attending (the United States hosted an alternative event called the Liberty Bell Classic in Philadelphia).
The current boycott is not without critics. Some critics, like Senator Tom Cotton, think that the current boycott is not enough and that the United States and others should fully boycott the Games. A similar argument is that due to the COVID-19 pandemic there was already going to be limited attendance at the Games, however, the US did send a diplomatic convoy to the 2021 Tokyo Games which included the First Lady. By not sending a diplomatic delegation to the 2022 Winter Games the United States and others are communicating their commitments to human rights and taking a stand against genocide.
There are others who criticized the boycott by stating that the politicization of sports should be avoided. This argument falls flat however when sports and sporting events are put in a larger context. Hitler used the 1936 Games to promote Nazi propaganda. Professional and college sports teams in the United States are changing their names and mascots due to racist and dehumanizing depictions of Native Americans. South Africa was banned from the Olympics from 1964 to 1988 due to apartheid. In 2009, the Presidents of Armenia and Turkey, who had deep-rooted divides over the legacy of the Armenian Genocide and no formal diplomatic relations, sat together at a World Cup match. After the match, the two countries opened diplomatic relations for the first time in nearly 100 years. Even the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang held significant political weight as North and South Korea marched as one team in the opening ceremony. A move that IOC President Bach promoted. Sports always have been, and always will be political.
In line with the inherently political nature of sports is the political nature of money they create. While many athletes make little to no money training for and competing at the games, the same cannot be said for corporate sponsors of the games. Major contributors to the games include Airbnb, Alibaba, Allianz, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Dow, General Electric, Intel, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, and Visa. All of these companies are serving contracts with the IOC that currently total nearly $1 billion, and could go as high as $2 billion by the end of the Games. Additionally, in 2014, NBC signed a $7.75 billion contract with the IOC for exclusive broadcast rights through 2032 and accounts for nearly 40% of all IOC funding.
To date, no corporate sponsors have withdrawn their support from the games or voiced condemnation of China’s genocide of the Uyghurs. Fearing Beijing’s ire, sponsors have even gone so far as to retract mentions of the current state of Xinjiang. Intel apologized for a letter it published on its website that asked for suppliers to not source from Xinjiang due to the United States ban on products from the region. This is despite Intel’s Vice President stating that he agrees with the US’s finding that China is committing genocide.
Corporations and the IOC refuse to speak out against the CCP’s genocidal policies and instead turn their backs on the Uyghur people in favor of profit. We do not have to though. Whether it is not purchasing Olympic merchandise, not supporting companies who support the Games, or not watching the broadcast of the Games, each of us can take a stand against supporting genocide.
Shari Gordnier is an Early Warning Analyst at Genocide Watch
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genocide Watch