Boycotting the Winter Olympics

Imagine you’re invited to a dinner party.

You might not be especially close to the hosts, but a mutual friend, also invited, informs you that a fabulous banquet is in store. In fact, this glorious meal occurs but once every four years. As such, it’s a true spectacle.

Guests congregate on the expansive front lawn, before being swept inside by a parade of dancers, crashing music, and flashing lights. Following a proud toast, festivities ensue in the form of delectable meals featuring exotic cuisines and sumptuous flavours. Meats that trickle from the bone complemented by lightly roasted vegetation exploding with sweetness, all driven home by the most expansive wine collection on earth.

Better still, once the food has settled but the drinks still flow, a talent show. No pressure, of course. But for the winner, riches beyond their wildest comprehension. And it just so happens you’ve been practising your juggling. A fabulous opportunity to casually demonstrate your skills whilst impressing any potential admirers.

Except there’s a problem. Your friend won’t be attending. They even ‘replied all’ on the email, ending their stern decline with a flourish to guarantee the entire guest list noticed.

               “Well,” your friend begins with astonishment, “you haven’t heard? After moving into their new house, they kidnapped the family next door and imprisoned them in their basement. I hear they’re regularly subjected to brutal torture, yet not one other person on that miserable street has done anything other than cautiously mutter under their breath. I have half a mind to contact the police. I certainly cannot justify enjoying myself directly above the heads of their poor victims.”

Suddenly, you’re faced with a dilemma. The event does sound incredible, unmissable really. Admittedly, there are limited contexts in which your juggling can be appropriately showcased, and it would be a shame to squander that hard work. But would you feel comfortable laughing alongside human rights abuses?

Last week, the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK announced diplomatic boycotts of the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics. This site has previously speculated over whether such actions might transpire, and consistently argued any other approach would be morally abhorrent.

In their retaliation, Chinese delegates have issued vague and presumably (hopefully) empty threats, additionally condemning the unnecessary ‘politicisation’ of sports. I do wish I could confidently deride the term ‘politicisation’ as wholly misused, but there’s undoubtedly an element of Joe Biden’s tough-on-China stance oozing from the cracks. Though there have been high tensions between the US and China, I’d like to believe the decision arose more from the severe persecution of Uyghur Muslims.

It should also be clarified that these will not be the boycotts of 1980 or 1984. The four nations listed will not send a diplomatic envoy to the games, but athletes are still permitted to compete under their home flag. An obnoxious and vacuous gesture intended to antagonise but not challenge.

At least it’s slightly less toothless than the pathetic IOC, embroiled in further controversy over the disappearance and suspicious reappearance of Peng Shuai, who has been allowed to engage in discussions with them whilst they insist she’s absolutely fine and under no coercion.

Personally, I believe the true problem is our apathy towards such vile abuses. War and genocide are merely a reality of the human condition. Just as individuals in the animal kingdom will maul and maim each other, so too will we exploit our capacity for much greater destruction to inflict immense harm. Horror stories from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany populate our collective understanding of humanity at its worst, though a shocking survey did reveal half of Britons don’t know 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. I would never propose we forget that. Instead, our commitment in the Western world to remembering that atrocity might have blinded us to modern tragedies.

The Uyghur Muslims are suffering genocide in China, on the largest scale of ethnic cleansing since WWII. The Rohingya people are experiencing a violent campaign of ethnic cleansing instigated by the Myanmar government. Warning signs have been raised of impending genocide in Ethiopia.

Micro- and macro-aggressions are so normalised, they only breach the surface of national attention in exceptional circumstances.

Returning to conclude on the Winter Olympics, I doubt anything will change. China, with an appalling environmental record too, let’s not forget, will host to limited protest. Athletes will enter, compete, and leave. Some might be convinced to say a few nice words about the Chinese government in exchange for a lot of money, and all will leave again. I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of athletes to be proponents for social change. That’s not the job.

Governments and governing bodies like the IOC need to step up.

Thanks for reading! Are you looking forwards to the Winter Olympics? Feature image courtesy of Unsplash.

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2 thoughts on “Boycotting the Winter Olympics

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  1. Your dinner party is a great analogy. I love the Olympics and I’m glad the athletes are still allowed to compete since the location is not their choice. I don’t think this boycott will do much either but something had to be done. I just hope the IOC makes better selections in the future. Maggie

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