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Winter Olympics in Beijing: Why no boycott?

Published: July 25, 2021

There is a long history of boycotts of the Olympics. The Chinese Communist Party of China, by any reasonable standard, is a vile regime. So why does it appear that the Winter Olympics in Beijing is going to go ahead without any boycott?

As the rather sad Olympics in Japan waddle along in silent and empty stadia, it might be time to turn our attention to the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

I will be upfront and say that I am not a fan of the Olympics, despite having admiration for the original ideals that founded the Olympics in the first place. The huge, expensive, and bloated games that we see today commenced with the Nazi Olympics of 1936 when Hitler used the event for propaganda purposes. It was during these Olympics that the massive stadium building and lavish opening ceremonies started; Hitler used the Olympics to promote an ascendant Germany under Nazism. The torch ceremony was introduced to link the regime to classical European civilisation. Meanwhile, Germany had an Aryan-only policy for athletic organisations, and a single Jew was allowed to compete for Germany, in a compromise with the International Olympic Committee and was used to gloss over the racist policy. Boycotts were proposed for the Nazi Olympics but, after the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States voted in a closed session to attend, other countries followed their lead.

There can be little doubt that the Nazi Olympics were a massive success for the regime, and it is also absolutely clear that attending the event allowed for a propaganda coup for the Nazis. And that was both inside and outside of Germany.

Since the Nazi Olympics, there have been frequent boycotts of the Olympics, with a notable case being the boycott by many countries of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, following the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Of course, the boycott was more than just the result of the invasion but was a part of the ongoing Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union. The Soviets retaliated to the US-led boycott of their own Olympics by boycotting the subsequent US Olympics in Los Angeles. In other words, since the 1936 Olympics, the Olympics have had a strong political dimension. As a historian of the games expresses it:

“Those [1936] games really set the stage for the Olympics as we know them today,” Large says. “That injection of politics and extreme nationalism, that’s continued. There’s no question that nationalism is a very fundamental part of it all.”

The history of the Olympics has shown that the Olympics can serve the ends of the vilest regimes by serving as an effective propaganda tool. The 2008 Beijing Olympics was just such an event. It took place under a viciously repressive regime, which had notably shocked the world just a few years earlier with the Tiananmen Square massacre. At the time of those Olympics, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was commanding an authoritarian dictatorial state that routinely and continually abused the rights and lives of its own citizens, as well as the people in the annexed country of Tibet. There should have been a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, but the West and other free countries of the world were still at a point where they hoped engagement would lead to liberalisation in China (a very foolish idea, given the history of the CCP).

As if it were not foolish enough that the West and other free countries handed a propaganda victory to the CCP at the 2008 Olympics, it now appears that the same will happen with the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing. At this point in time, the excuses are wearing thin. In addition to the general oppression of the CCP regime continuing, there are many new reasons to add to a call for a boycott. Firstly, there is China’s international aggression, with threats to Taiwan (e.g. see here), threats of nuclear war against opponents, the attempt to annex the South China Sea, the unleashing of Covid on the world as well as the attempt to cover it up, and organ harvesting of political prisoners. And, of course, there is the genocide of the Uighurs in the province of Xinjiang. And this list is only some of the lowlights of just the last few years. There is far more that could be added.

So, we have one of the most vile regimes imaginable, abusing its own people, aggressing against neighbours, committing genocide, alongside any other number of rogue actions, and the world is about to hand yet another propaganda victory to the CCP. If you doubt this, watch this CCTV video, that praises Xi Jing Ping for his role in the Olympics. Fortunately, some are speaking out, in particular in the USA:

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Friday called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone or relocate the scheduled 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing unless China ends it genocide against the Uyghurs.

In a letter to Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, the legislators said it would “reflect extremely poorly on the Olympic movement” if it “were to proceed with holding the Olympic Games in a country whose government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity as if nothing were wrong.”

“The IOC is on course to set a dark precedent where the behavior of future Olympic host governments is unconstrained by the international spotlight provided by the Olympic Games,” the lawmakers, who are members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said.

The EU has passed a non-binding resolution for a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, and the UK Foreign Affairs Committee has also called for a boycott. Here in New Zealand, Louisa Wall, a Labour MP, has called for a diplomatic boycott. As you will note, aside from the example from the US, this is all very insipid stuff and there seems to be very little appetite for a full and complete boycott of the games. And, at the time of writing, there appears to be very little substantive action on the horizon.

Given that the CCP is one of the vilest imaginable regimes, is acting as a rogue state, allowing the 2022 Winter Olympics to go ahead would represent a massive failure for free countries everywhere to stand up for the principles which provides their own legitimacy. The Olympics are not just sporting events, but also intensely political. Unless things are turned around, the CCP is about to win yet another propaganda victory. And the failure to act on the Olympics is also symbolic of a continuing reluctance to stand up to China. In particular, a boycott is just a diplomatic gesture of admonition, and if we cannot even manage that, then what will we do to halt China’s ongoing aggression and abuse of rights going forward?

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