Levitt: Morals, not medals, must guide our way on decision to attend the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing

Good commentary and call. Given that calls to mode the games from Beijing are unlikely to be agreed to by the IOC and many member countries, the government and COC have to face up to the reality that non-attendance is the only realistic option:

A genocide is happening, but Olympic officials want us to look the other way. As the issue of Canada’s participation in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics has heated up in recent days, it has been disappointing to see the debate focus primarily on the efficacy, or lack thereof, of previous Olympic boycotts, and the need to separate sports and politics. 

Surely, the discussion must be focused on Canada taking a strong moral stand in the face of the abysmal human rights record of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The facts speak for themselves; the arbitrary detention of the two Michaels, the violent crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, and of course, the perpetrating of genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang province.

On this last point, one cannot and must not compartmentalize genocide, arguably the greatest of all evils in human history. As millions of Uighurs face unspeakable abuse, including accusations of mass detention, forced sterilization, and recent reports of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture, the 2022 Winter Olympics simply cannot be business as usual. 

It is misguided to leave the critical discussion about whether Canadian athletes should compete in Beijing to be had behind the closed doors of the Canadian Olympic Committee. This debate needs to take place on the floor of the House of Commons, allowing Canadians to have their say through their elected members of Parliament. 

This past summer, Parliament’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights held a series of emergency hearings on “The Human Rights Situation of the Uighurs.” In a unanimously adopted statement, the committee unequivocally condemned the Chinese government for its persecution of the Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, and stated that they were “persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitutes genocide as laid out in the Genocide Convention.” 

Further, just last week, 13 MPs from all five federal parties signed a letter urging the International Olympic Committee to relocate the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to another country in response to the CCP’s human rights abuses against the Uighur minority. 

It is a source of great personal pride that as a member of Parliament, I was able to raise my voice in support of two unanimous motions in the House of Commons recognizing the genocides being perpetrated against the Yazidis in 2016 and the Rohingya in 2018. 

Just as we did then, Canadian parliamentarians must once again be given the opportunity to rise in the House to address the situation facing the Uighurs and be heard on the determination of genocide. Only in this context can the full implication of Canada’s participation in the 2022 Beijing Games be properly evaluated. 

Since the introduction of the modern games in 1896, the Olympics have not only been a site of international co-operation and celebration, they have also acted as a lightning rod for social, economic and political tensions. Superpowers have long recognized the symbolic power of gold medals and awe-inspiring opening ceremonies in shaping public perceptions of host nations. 

So-called “sportswashing,” the hosting of a sporting event as a means for a country to improve its reputation, in particular on a poor human rights record, throws the legitimacy of the Games themselves into question.

The ethical implications of participating in the Olympics when they are hosted by a nation guilty of gross human rights abuses has been a point of international debate for decades. One only has to look back to the 2008 Beijing Olympics to see the extensive laundry list of human rights violations that intensified in the preparation for and hosting of the Games in China; a dark legacy that still lingers to this day. 

Canadians want nothing more than to celebrate and support our incredible athletes on the world stage, but not at any cost. As human rights icon Irwin Cotler reminds us, “in the face of evil, indifference is acquiescence, if not complicity in evil itself.” 

If Canada’s participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics requires our complicity with a regime perpetrating genocide, it is simply a price we cannot afford to pay.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2021/02/16/moral-not-metals-must-guide-our-way-on-decision-to-attend-the-2022-winter-games-in-beijing.html

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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