In the winter of grade eleven, I took the course that inspired me to write my article: The Crossroad of Sports and Politics: Boycotting the 2022 Beijing Olympics. This course, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, forced me to critically examine world history while providing me a foundation to consider the future.
My class learned about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Criminal Court, and the legal definition of the Crime of Genocide as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. With this knowledge, we could learn about various human rights atrocities throughout history and examine them. At that time, I was vaguely aware of the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China. With all the material I was learning and discussing in class ever present on my mind, I decided to learn more.
During this, I learned the Olympics are scheduled to be held in Beijing in 2022. This struck me as a parallel opportunity to one the world had, leading up to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but ultimately failed to seize. While the actions of China’s government are not the same as Nazi Germany, the timing with the two countries as host nations of the Olympics presents a similar opportunity for the rest of the world; to take action against human rights abuses. Governments and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are aware of the oppression from the Chinese government, as they were of the persecutory laws in Germany in 1936, and as of now are choosing the Olympics and the associated money and politics over action.
The common counterargument to a boycott of the Beijing Olympics is it would amount to nothing besides further angering the Chinese government and possible political and economic consequences. However, by attending, the rest of the world effectively allows the Chinese government to present a facade of themselves across the globe to mask the human rights abuses there, considering their current actions continue. The Beijing Olympics would then be a massive propaganda event for the Chinese government that the IOC, governments, and athletes, whether they wanted to or not, would be helping them carry out without some form of a boycott. Effectively, this guise is what the Nazis successfully completed with the Berlin Olympics, afterward continuing on their horrific path that led to the Holocaust and Second World War.
I am a high school student and am by no means qualified to inform you of what exactly would be the outcome or exact consequences of different types of boycotts. Instead, I can use the knowledge I have been taught and what I have learned about history to understand how an international sporting event can hold significance for people being oppressed in the host nation. Before and while writing my article, I questioned my qualifications in writing it. There are many people much more knowledgeable than myself on human rights abuses, foreign policy, economics, and the specifics of the Olympics, but I still wanted to ask these questions. Now half a year after I wrote my article, the Tokyo Olympics have finished, and Beijing is next in line, presenting the possibility of more momentum and focus onto the 2022 Winter Olympics. The Beijing Olympics highlight the question of the role of the Olympics in addressing human rights issues, where is it suitable to house the Olympics, and whose responsibility is it to prevent the Olympics from being used to disregard, thereby condoning human rights abuses?
Author: Sophia Rottman
Secondary Youth Award: Sophia Rottman, Tigertalk (the newspaper of Harbord Collegiate Institute), The Crossroad of Sports and Politics: Boycotting the 2022 Beijing Olympics
Disclaimer: Sophia Rottman is a recipient of the 2020 Amnesty International Canada Media Awards. The views in this article do not represent those of Amnesty International.