By Bridie Strowe-Bolger ’25
Beijing is the first city ever to host both Summer and Winter Olympic events. This wins a huge title for China in general. Even with this positive aspect of China’s identity, the shadow of the country’s long list of human rights abuses weighs heavily on public world opinion. Many people are participating in a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics to send a message about human rights abuses. But what will this actually achieve, and why are they doing this in the first place?
The Biden Administration recently announced a diplomatic boycott of Beijing, 2022, on the basis of “Ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.” This is the first Olympics boycott since the Carter administration in 1980, which was announced to protest Russia’s violent involvement in Afghanistan. Although it may not seem to do much, a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics is extremely effective in sending a message while still allowing athletes to attend. (A very good thing for the US, as we have collectively won 6 gold, 5 silver, and 1 bronze, and this is only as of day 9!)
After Biden announced the US boycott, other countries including Britain, Australia, and Canada joined. Unfortunately, this is pretty much the extent of US Allied aid of the boycott. Other allies such as Germany, France, and Italy have not honored the European Parliament’s 2021 resolution to boycott Beijing 2022 without “Verifiable improvement in the human rights situation in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uyghur Region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China.”
China is currently facing serious accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity, which, while based on their treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, also extend to the government’s overreach of power. It is the belief of many human rights groups that China has wrongfully detained over one million Uyghur Muslims. There is also evidence to point towards horrid conditions in China’s detention centers, or ‘re-education camps’, where sexual assault and forced sterilization are a norm for women. Even as the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang, with a population of over twelve million, the Uyghurs remain unsafe from forced labor and other human rights abuses by the Chinese government.
While it’s difficult to believe that tragedies like this can still happen in our so-called ‘Modern world’, the Uyghurs are just one of many examples of human rights abuses that governments refuse to end. The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are an example of something called ‘Sports Washing’, a term used to describe when a country attempts to draw attention away from it’s crimes by placing an emphasis on sports entertainment. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for foreign powers to do anything about this without risking armed conflict, so countries like the US must turn to more diplomatic solutions, such as boycotting.