— Sports

EXPLAINER: Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and some options

The U.S. State Department says it’s talking with allies about China‘s human rights record and how to handle next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics.

On Tuesday, a department spokesman suggested that an Olympic boycott to protest China’s rights abuses was among the possibilities. But a senior official said later that a sanction has not yet been discussed.

Human rights groups are protesting China’s hosting of the games, which open on Feb. 4, 2022. They have urged a diplomatic or straight-up boycott to call attention to alleged Chinese abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetans, and residents of Hong Kong.

Activists are also reaching out to national Olympic committees, athletes, and sponsors after failing to get the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee to move the games out of China.

Beijing is the first city to win the right to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics. The 2008 Beijing Olympics were held with the hope of improving human rights in the country.

POSITION OF IOC AND CHINA

President Thomas Bach says the IOC must stay out of politics. However, it holds observer status at the United Nations, and Bach has touted his efforts to unite the two Koreas at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“We are not a super-world government where the IOC could solve or even address issues for which not the U.N. security council, no G7, no G20 has solutions,” Bach told a news conference last month. He has repeated the IOC must stay “neutral.”

China says “political motives” underlie any boycott effort.

“China firmly rejects the politicization of sports and opposes using human rights issues to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in March. He said an effort at a boycott “is doomed to failure.”

ACTIVISTS HAVE MET WITH THE IOC

Activists met late last year with the IOC and asked the 2022 Olympics to be moved. They also asked to see documents the IOC says it has in which China gave “assurances” about human rights conditions. Activists say the IOC has not produced the documents. The virtual meeting was headed by IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who oversees preparations for Beijing. His father was the long-time IOC president.

“We felt like the IOC was having a meeting with us, more so that they could say they were having a meeting with us rather than because they actually wanted to listen and act on anything that we had to say,” Gloria Montgomery, campaigns coordinator at the International Tibet Network, said in a recent briefing with other activists. At We The Hongkongers, Frances Hui suggested a condescending tone from the IOC in the meeting. “The first thing we heard is: ‘It’s a very complicated world’. And I asked again: How are you going to legitimatize games based in a country practicing genocide and murder? Again the reply to me was, it’s a complex world.”

BOYCOTT, DIPOLMATIC BOYCOTT

Activists are talking about softer forms of a boycott but have not ruled out the kind of boycott led by the United States in the 1980 Moscow Olympics; 65 countries stayed away, including China, and 80 participated.

“I think a diplomatic boycott would be very much welcomed by all of our communities. We have been looking towards accountability, and that is definitely part of that path toward accountability,” said Zumretay Arkin, spokeswoman for the World Uyghur Congress.

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