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The Genocide Games: The Boycott

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By Shari Gordnier

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

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