By Kirti Mehta
China is currently in the final stages of preparing to host the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games. The spectacle has cost around US$3.9 billion and is due to start on 4th February 2022. Following the summer games in 2008, Beijing is preparing to become the first city to host both a summer and winter Olympics. However, much of the recent focus has steered away from the sporting aspect of the competition, instead focusing on allegations of human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang. Resultantly, over 180 organisations are calling for the boycott of the event.
The situation originates from 2014, when China’s President, Xi Jinping, directed local officials to use force to respond to a terror attack organised by Uyghur separatists. This has led to the creation of internment camps designed to ‘re-educate’ Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Muslims in the area. It is estimated that over a million men and women have been detained in one of the multiple camps across the Xinjiang area, where they have been submitted to an oppressive regime of indoctrination, mass surveillance and, in cases, forced sterilisation. The Chinese government have been accused of stripping detainees of their religious freedoms as well as other human rights violations.
In February, earlier this year, the Canadian parliament voted unanimously (266-0) to declare the activities in Xinjiang a genocide. Similar opinions have led to activists and lawmakers turning to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for solutions. These calls have pleaded with the IOC to move the Olympics from Beijing, should the genocide continue.
This series of events is reminiscent of the 1936 Summer Olympics, hosted in Berlin, after the recordings of similar abuses against the Jewish population. Furthermore, the IOC appears to want to remain – as it did previously – neutral on global political issues. There are only three times throughout history where the Olympic Games have been cancelled: once in World War One and twice in World War Two (discounting the suspension of the 2020 Summer Olympics due to COVID-19). The history of the Olympic Games has persevered in the face of many politically charged boycotts and two separate terrorist attacks.
Many have argued that the IOC should have prevented this situation, by awarding the 2022 Winter Olympics to somebody else, and so the solution appears to lie with the IOC avoiding awarding the Olympic Games to countries with poor human rights records. Whilst cancelling the Winter Olympics would not necessarily end the atrocities in China, the hope is that it would provide enough incentive to try. However, given the past record of the IOC and the presidential nature of this ruling, it seems exceptionally unlikely that this will occur. Especially given China’s historical record in the context of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Here acts of censorship, abusing workers’ rights and detaining journalists went against the promises that were made to secure their hosting rights – namely improving human rights conditions.
In spite of the IOC’s determination to take a seemingly apolitical stance when it comes to Olympic Games of the past and present, the situation in China draws frightening parallels from the actions of Nazi Germany in the past. By cooperating in an international event there is a silent condolence of the activities and the Chinese regime as a whole. It appears as though it will be up to individual countries to abstain from attending of their own accord. Throughout history, the UK has never completely boycotted an Olympic Games. However, the now branded ‘genocide Olympics’ would be an appropriate place to start.