Is the Beijing Winter Olympics in danger?

Society & Culture

It's been an eventful year for politics and sports in China.

Beijing Olympics 2022

As SupChina’s Lucas Niewenhuis noted last week, more than 160 human rights groups signed a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to “reconsider its choice to award China the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in light of Beijing’s human rights record.”

It’s unlikely the IOC will listen, of course. Back in 2008, the IOC issued a series of DMCA takedown requests to YouTube over a number of pro-Tibet videos ahead of the Summer Olympics in Beijing. Also that year, the Olympic Committee, at the request of Beijing, interfered in a Taiwanese referendum to change its Olympic name from “Chinese Taipei” to simply “Taiwan.” The IOC publicly informed Taiwan that the Committee would either suspend or withdraw Taiwan from the 2020 Olympics.

But the question now is whether other countries will boycott.

In the UK, talk has begun about whether Great Britain will send a full delegation. Speculation about a diplomatic boycott concerning UK dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, senior politicians, and key members of the Royal family, will persist until the opening ceremony itself.

With U.S.-China relations disintegrating daily, and China’s ongoing spats with Australia and Canada, there is real concern about a united boycott, which could seriously hurt the Games.

Twenty years ago, China saw the Olympics as an opportunity to polish its international reputation, and to send a message to the world that it had officially arrived on a global stage. Now, the rest of the world may use the Olympics to send China its response.

Politics and China sports in the past 12 months

The Daryl Morey saga last October set quite the tone for politics and sports in the year to come.

Morey, you might remember, sent a pro-Hong Kong democracy tweet that angered Chinese fans — and the Chinese consulate in Houston.

The next flair-up happened when Premier League star Mesut Ozil delivered his own inflammatory tweet, this time calling for Uyghur “warriors to resist persecution.”

Ozil’s club team, Arsenal, scrambled to distance itself from the midfielder on Chinese social media. But Chinese media didn’t make a big deal out of the tweet, perhaps aware that an over-the-top reaction would shine light on the situation in Xinjiang.

Chinese soccer great Hǎo Hǎidōng 郝海东 recorded a video message in June in which he called for regime change in his home country.

Just last month, ex-Shanghai Shenhua star Demba Ba called on the sports world to pay more attention to the Uyghur plight.

And now, with more than 160 human rights organizations calling on the IOC to drop Beijing, sport is becoming a pressure point. Less than two years remain until Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics. There’s a lot of time yet for politics and sports to mix.

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.