Despite widespread calls by human rights groups for countries to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) announced on Feb. 4 that Team Canada will be participating in the Games.
The COC and the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) said in a joint statement that although they are “deeply concerned” over China’s human rights record, “boycotts don’t work.”
“Over the past few months, we have started to hear rumblings of a proposed boycott of the Beijing Games. China’s troubling human-rights record, the oppression of the Uyghur minority and the continued detention of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, are deeply concerning for us,” the statement said.
“In no way are we, at the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee, trying to minimize what is happening in China. But a boycott is not the answer.”
On Feb. 3, a coalition of 180 human rights groups issued an open letter urging governments to support a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, scheduled to start a year from now on Feb. 4, 2022. The groups represent repressed minorities in China such as Tibetans, Uyghurs, Inner Mongolians, and residents of Hong Kong.
The coalition said a boycott of the Games is necessary “to ensure they are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent.”
The Olympic committees noted that in 1980, when some countries led by the United States boycotted the Moscow Olympics to object against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, “the Games went ahead—and the Soviets remained in Afghanistan for almost another decade.”
“Boycotts don’t work. They punish only the athletes prevented from going, those they were meant to compete against and those who would have been inspired by them,” the statement said.
Kovrig and Spavor have been arbitrarily detained in a Chinese prison on baseless charges since December 2018, following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant.
Canada’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights has estimated that roughly 2 million Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims are held in massive concentration camps in China, which marks the largest detention since the Holocaust. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have deemed the campaign of repression against the Uyghur population a genocide.
Another ongoing persecution campaign is the one launched against adherents of Falun Gong, a Buddhist meditation practice based on the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. According to studies by Canadian human rights advocates, Falun Gong prisoners of conscience have been targeted for torture, organ harvesting, and other atrocities since 1999.
Conservative Foreign Affairs critic Michael Chong has said that a boycott should be considered as part of revamping Canada-China relations. He is spearheading a push for the Liberal government to work with democratic allies to counter China’s gross violations of human rights.
Federal Conservatives want Canada to consider a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Here is the statement from Conservative Foreign Affairs critic @MichaelChongMP #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/OrW3ISigrc
— Cormac Mac Sweeney (@cmaconthehill) January 13, 2021
David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said a boycott is “worth doing,” noting that the participation of Western countries in the Games sends the wrong message to the Chinese Communist Party.
“There’s also a sense, particularly for the party that they’re securing the compliance of the world, and that’s really really dangerous,” he said told the National Post.
“We submitted to it in 2008, look where we are now. Why allow that to happen again?”