China warns against 'politicising' Olympics

Thursday March 18 2021

Olympics torch. China has warned against ‘politicisation’ of the upcoming Winter Beijing Olympics. PHOTO | FILE


The Chinese government has warned against "politicising" the upcoming Winter Beijing Olympics, rejecting accusations of human rights violations.

On Wednesday, Chinese officials said the Winter Olympics due next year should be a unifying opportunity and critics should not relate it with other issues.

“’To strengthen the unity of the Olympic Movement, to protect its independence, to maintain and promote its political neutrality’, these are words enshrined in the Olympic Charter,” said Zhao Lijian, Spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in a statement.

“To politicise sports is against the spirit of the Charter and harms the interests of athletes of all countries. The international community, including the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, all oppose such wrong practices,” Zhao said, promising a safe and enjoyable tournament.

China expects to host the Winter Olympics next year from February 4 to February 20. But the preparations have been overshadowed with accusations of human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong regions of the country. China rejects the charge.

But as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday this week, a group of Chinese activists held an online press conference, demanding that China is stripped of the hosting rights until they come clean on violations.


An umbrella coalition of Chinese activists in the diaspora, representing Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, said Beijing hasn’t done enough to alleviate the suffering.

“The Chinese Communist Party has been systematically committing genocide and crimes against humanity.

“China should not be allowed to host the Olympics 2022 until they close the camps in East Turkestan, stop acts of repression in Hong Kong, and restore the dignity and rights of everyone,” they said in a statement, referring to the traditional name of Xinjiang in the north western parts of China.

The group was led by Dhondup Wangchen, a former political prisoner arrested during Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, Tursunay Ziawudun, an Uyghur, Rushan Abbas, founder and executive director at Campaign for Uyghurs, as well as Pema Doma, campaigns director at Students for a Free Tibet organisation.

Since 2017, China had been creating what it calls training centres to re-educate locals in Xinjiang, including Muslim Uyghurs, to abandon extremism and choose life without indoctrination.

But rights groups said the locals had been forced into the camps, forced to sterilise or even killed.

The coalition of Chinese activists said they were reaching out to the US government, national Olympic committees, athletes, and sponsors around the world. They said their request to the   International Olympic Committee to move the games out of China had been declined. If it holds the games, Beijing will become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Last week, IOC boss Thomas Bach said the Committee will remain apolitical, citing the unity seen between the two Koreas in 2018 as something that would never have happened had the games allowed political influence.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Beijing of targeting minority ethnic groups and oppressing them.

Ahead of their meeting, Blinken had hinted at boycotts, saying the US will decide whether to participate in the Olympics based on human rights conditions.

Despite the Olympics being purely a sporting event, some countries use both the Winter and Summer Olympics to issue political statements or protests. Most of the boycotts happened during the Cold War era.

In 1980, then US President Jimmy Carter announced that his country would boycott the summer Olympic Games in Moscow after the then Soviet Union failed to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Moscow and its former satellite republics returned the favour four years later when they boycotted the Los Angeles games for “lacking security” for athletes.

In 1976, Tanzania led a group of 22 African countries to boycott the Olympics in the Montreal Olympics, Canada. The Africans were angry with the refusal of the International Olympics Committee to bar New Zealand for hosting apartheid South Africa’s rugby team. North Korea boycotted the 1988 Winter Olympics in Seoul but agreed to compete under a unified flag when South Korea held the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.