Human rights? China won that Winter Olympics battle. Almost.

Time for Canadian Olympians and sport officials to speak up:

When three-time Olympian Gus Kenworthy took the remarkable, perhaps even brave decision to speak out against “human rights atrocities” while still in China at the Winter Games, the self-proclaimed “loud and obnoxious” British skier also proved that other athletes, had they chosen, perhaps could have used their Olympic platform to pipe up, too.

Because Kenworthy wasn’t hauled away and imprisoned, as Chinese critics of the ruling Communist Party routinely are. Doing so would have generated exactly the sort of global focus on the Chinese government’s authoritarian methods that it sought to avoid while global sports’ biggest show was in town. 

And with the notable exception of Kenworthy, China largely accomplished that mission. 

Olympians with any qualms about chasing medals in a country accused of genocide against its Muslim Uyghur population and of other abuses kept their views on those topics to themselves for the durations of their stay. And perhaps for good reason: They faced vague but, as it turned out, undeployed Chinese threats of punishment, constant surveillance and the sobering example of tennis star Peng Shuai’s difficulties after she voiced allegations of forced sex against a Communist Party official.

“We have seen an effective silencing of 2,800 athletes, and that’s scary,” said Noah Hoffman, a former U.S. Olympic skier and board member of the Global Athlete advocacy group pushing for Olympic reform.

Kenworthy, speaking to The Associated Press before his 8th-place finish in the halfpipe final on the Games’ penultimate day, laid out why.

“We’re in China, so we play by China’s rules. And China makes their rules as they go, and they certainly have the power to kind of do whatever they want: Hold an athlete, stop an athlete from leaving, stop an athlete from competing,” he said.

“I’ve also been advised to sort of tread lightly while I am here and that’s what I am trying to do.”

Immediately after competing, however, the proudly gay athlete’s gloves came off. 

He prefaced criticism with praise for China’s “incredible job with this Olympics” and carefully calibrated his words. But unlike other Olympians, he couldn’t bite his tongue until he got home. Kenworthy aimed jabs not only at the host country’s rights abuses and “poor stance on LGBTQ rights” but also at other athletes he said try “to appeal to the masses” and avoid ruffling feathers. 

“I’ve already kind of accepted that that’s not what I’m gonna do,” he said. “I’m just gonna speak my truth.” 

In fairness, Olympians found themselves squeezed on all sides in Beijing. Campaigners abroad hoped they would spark global outrage over the imprisonment in re-education camps of an estimated 1 million people or more, most of them Uyghurs. China, backed to the hilt by the International Olympic Committee, didn’t want critical voices to be heard. And their own voices told athletes to focus, focus, focus on the pursuit of Olympic success that they, their coaches and families sacrificed for.

The sweep and vagueness of a Chinese official’s threat before the Games of “certain punishment” for “any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit” appeared to have a particularly sobering effect on Beijing-bound teams. Campaigners who met with athletes in the United States in the weeks before their departure, lobbying them about Uyghurs and the crushing of dissent in Tibet and Hong Kong, noticed the chill.

“Prior to the statement, we had been engaging with quite a few athletes,” said Pema Doma, campaigns director at Students for a Free Tibet. They “were expressing a lot of interest in learning more and being engaged in the human rights issue.” 

Afterward, “there was a very, very distinct difference” and “one athlete even said to an activist directly: ‘I’ve been instructed not to take anything from you or speak to you,’” she said in a phone interview.

Other concerns also weighed on Olympians, way beyond the usual anxieties that often come with travel to a foreign land, away from home comforts.

Warnings of possible cyber-snooping by Chinese security services and team advisories that athletes leave electronic devices at home were alarming for a generation weaned on social media and constant connectivity with their worlds. 

Also wearing were daily coronavirus tests that were mandatory — and invasive, taken with swabs to the back of the throat — for all Olympians, locked inside a tightly policed bubble of health restrictions to prevent infection spreads. The penalty for testing positive was possible quarantine and missed competition, a terrible blow for winter athletes who often toil outside of the limelight, except every four years at the Games.

“Who knows where those tests go, who handles the results,” Kenworthy said. “It’s definitely in the back of the mind.”

“And there’s like all the cybersecurity stuff. It is concerning,” he told The AP.

Often, athletes simply blanked when asked about human rights, saying they weren’t qualified to speak on the issue or were focused on competition, and hunkered down. 

On Twitter, Dutch speedskater Sanne in ’t Hof blocked, unblocked and then blocked again a Uyghur living in the Netherlands who posted critical comments of Olympians in what he called “genocide” Games. Mirehmet Ablet shared a screengrab with The AP showing that the skater had barred him from accessing her account, where she tweeted that she “enjoyed every second!′ of her first Olympics. Ablet’s brother was arrested in 2017 in the Uyghur homeland of Xinjiang in far western China, and Ablet doesn’t know where he’s now held.

Other athletes also were effusive in praising their China experience. “Nothing short of amazing,” said U.S. speedskating bronze-medal winner Brittany Bowe. 

Hoffman, who competed for the U.S. at the 2014 and 2018 Games, said internal politics within teams may also have dissuaded athletes from speaking critically. Coaches can bench athletes who bring unwanted attention and “there’s pressure from your teammates to not cause a distraction,” he said in a phone interview. Athletes with self-confidence dented by sub-par performances may also have felt that they’d lost any platform.

“There’s lots of really subtle pressure,” Hoffman said. 

He expects some athletes won’t be critical once home, so as to not disrespect the cheerful and helpful Games workers.

But he’s hopeful others will speak up on their return and that “we do get a chorus.” 

Feeling unmuzzled, some already are. 

Back in Sweden with his two gold medals in speedskating, Nils van der Poel told the Aftonbladet newspaper that although he had “a very nice experience behind the scenes,” hosting the Games in China was “terrible.” He drew parallels with the 1936 Summer Olympics in Nazi Germany and Russia hosting the Sochi Olympics before seizing control of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. 

“It is extremely irresponsible,” van der Poel said, ”to give it to a country that violates human rights as clearly as the Chinese regime does.”

Source: Human rights? China won that Winter Olympics battle. Almost.

For Companies, Winning in China Now Means Losing Somewhere Else

Should be an awaking, both given Chinese government repression and the IOC various wilful blindnesses:

Companies usually shell out for Olympic sponsorship because it helps their business and reflects well on their brands. But this year, with the Olympics in Beijing, Procter & Gamble paid even more to try to prevent any negative fallout from being associated with China’s repressive and authoritarian government.

The company, one of 13 “worldwide Olympic partners” that make the global sports competition possible, hired Washington lobbyists last year to successfully defeat legislation that would have barred sponsors of the Beijing Games from selling their products to the U.S. government. The provision would have blocked Pampers, Tide, Pringles and other Procter & Gamble products from military commissaries, to protest companies’ involvement in an event seen as legitimizing the Chinese government.

“This amendment would punish P.&G. and the Olympic movement, including U.S. athletes,” Sean Mulvaney, the senior director for global government relations at Procter & Gamble, wrote in an email to congressional offices in August.

Some of the world’s biggest companies are caught in an uncomfortable situation as they attempt to straddle a widening political gulf between the United States and China: What is good for business in one country is increasingly a liability in the other.

China is the world’s biggest consumer market, and for decades, Chinese and American business interests have described their economic cooperation as a “win-win relationship.” But gradually, as China’s economic and military might have grown, Washington has taken the view that a win for China is a loss for the United States.

The decision to locate the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing has turned sponsorship, typically one of the marketing industry’s most prestigious opportunities, into a minefield.

Companies that have sponsored the Olympics have attracted censure from politicians and human rights groups, who say such contracts imply tacit support of atrocities by the Chinese Communist Party, including human rights violations in Xinjiang, censorship of the media and mass surveillance of dissidents.

“One thing our businesses, universities and sports leagues don’t seem to fully understand is that, to eat at the C.C.P.’s trough, you will have to turn into a pig,” Yaxue Cao, editor of, a website that covers civil society and human rights, told Congressthis month.

The tension is playing out in other areas as well, including with regards to Xinjiang, where millions of ethnic minorities have been detained, persecuted or forced into working in fields and factories. In June, the United States will enact a sweeping law that will expand restrictions on Xinjiang, giving the United States power to block imports made with any materials sourced from that region.

Multinational firms that are trying to comply with these new import restrictions have found themselves facing costly backlashes in China, which denies any accusations of genocide. H&M, Nikeand Intel have all blundered into public relations disasters for trying to remove Xinjiang from their supply chains.

Harsher penalties could be in store. Companies that try to sever ties with Xinjiang may run afoul of China’s anti-sanctions law, which allows the authorities to crack down on firms that comply with foreign regulations they see as discriminating against China.

Beijing has also threatened to put companies that cut off supplies to China on an “unreliable entity list” that could result in penalties, though to date the list doesn’t appear to have any members.

“Companies are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to complying with U.S. and Chinese law,” said Jake Colvin, the president of the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents companies that do business internationally.

President Biden, while less antagonistic than his predecessor, has maintained many of the tough policies put in place by President Donald J. Trump, including hefty tariffs on Chinese goods and restrictions on exports of sensitive technology to Chinese firms.

The Biden administration has shown little interest in forging trade deals to help companies do more business abroad. Instead, it is recruiting allies to ramp up pressure on China, including by boycotting the Olympics, and promoting huge investments in manufacturing and scientific research to compete with Beijing. 

The pressures are not only coming from the United States. Companies are increasingly facing a complicated global patchwork of export restrictions and data storage laws, including in the European Union. Chinese leaders have begun pursuing “wolf warrior” diplomacy, in which they are trying to teach other countries to think twice before crossing China, said Jim McGregor, chairman of APCO Worldwide’s greater China region.

He said his company was telling clients to “try to comply with everybody, but don’t make a lot of noise about it — because if you’re noisy about complying in one country, the other country will come after you.”

Some companies are responding by moving sensitive activities — like research that could trigger China’s anti-sanctions law, or audits of Xinjiang operations — out of China, said Isaac Stone Fish, the chief executive of Strategy Risks, a consultancy.

Others, like Cisco, have scaled back their operations. Some have left China entirely, though usually not on terms they would choose. For example, Micron Technology, a chip-maker that has been a victim of intellectual property theft in China, is closing down a chip design team in Shanghai after competitors poached its employees.

“Some companies are taking a step back and realizing that this is perhaps more trouble than it’s worth,” Mr. Stone Fish said.

But many companies insist that they can’t be forced to choose between two of the world’s largest markets. Tesla, which counts China as one of its largest markets, opened a showroom in Xinjianglast month.

“We can’t leave China, because China represents in some industries up to 50 percent of global demand and we have intense, deep supply and sales relationships,” said Craig Allen, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council.

Companies see China as a foothold to serve Asia, Mr. Allen said, and China’s $17 trillion economy still presents “some of the best growth prospects anywhere.”

“Very few companies are leaving China, but all are feeling that it’s risk up and that they need to be very careful so as to meet their legal obligations in both markets,” he said.

American politicians of both parties are increasingly bent on forcing companies to pick a side.

“To me, it’s completely appropriate to make these companies choose,” said Representative Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican who proposed the bill that would have prevented Olympic sponsors from doing business with the U.S. government.

Mr. Waltz said participation in the Beijing Olympics sent a signal that the West was willing to turn a blind eye to Chinese atrocities for short-term profits.

The amendment was ultimately cut out of a defense-spending bill last year after active and aggressive lobbying by Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Intel, NBC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others, Mr. Waltz said.

Procter & Gamble’s lobbying disclosures show that, between April and December, it spent more than $2.4 million on in-house and outside lobbyists to try to sway Congress on a range of tax and trade issues, including the Beijing Winter Olympics Sponsor Accountability Act.

Lobbying disclosures for Coca-Cola, Airbnb and Comcast, the parent company of NBC, also indicate the companies lobbied on issues related to the Olympics or “sports programming” last year.

Procter & Gamble and Intel declined to comment. Coca-Cola said it had explained to lawmakers that the legislation would hurt American military families and businesses. NBC and the Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment.

Many companies have argued they are sponsoring this year’s Games to show support for the athletes, not China’s system of government.

In a July congressional hearing, where executives from Coca-Cola, Intel, Visa and Airbnb were also grilled about their sponsorship, Mr. Mulvaney said Procter & Gamble was using its partnership to encourage the International Olympic Committee to incorporate human rights principles into its oversight of the Games.

“Corporate sponsors are being a bit unfairly maligned here,” Anna Ashton, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said in an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

Companies had signed contracts to support multiple iterations of the Games, and had no say over the host location, she said. And the funding they provide goes to support the Olympics and the athletes, not the Chinese government.

“Sponsorship has hardly been an opportunity for companies this time around,” she said. 

Source: For Companies, Winning in China Now Means Losing Somewhere Else

Articles on #Beijing2022 and the boycott question: “The Nazis used us during the 1936 Olympics. We cannot fall for the same propaganda tactics in China next year;” “Kelly: Washington’s diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics is worse than meaningless;” “53% of Canadians would not send diplomats to 2022 Olympic Games; two-in-five would keep athletes home”

Starting with the obvious parallel:

In a recent telephone interview with Fox News, former President Donald Trump said he is opposed to a proposed boycott of the 2022 Olympics in China because it would “hurt the athletes.”

President Joe Biden and others have raised the idea of a potential boycott of the 2022 games to protest the Chinese government’s ongoing persecution of its Muslim Uyghur citizens and other human rights abuses, such as the oppression of Tibetans and the trampling of civil liberties in Hong Kong.

America has been through this debate before — in 1936, and again in 1980. The very different outcomes of those two earlier debates offer some useful lessons for our current controversy.

The Chinese regime is engaged in “ongoing genocide” against the Uyghurs, according to the State Department. A recent report by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum found that “the Chinese government’s attacks on the Uyghur community are alarming in scale and severity” and constitute “crimes against humanity,” including “forced sterilization, sexual violence, enslavement, torture, forcible transfer, persecution, and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty.”

From the Chinese perspective, the Olympic Games represent a prime public relations opportunity. They make the host country seem like an accepted part of the civilized international community.

Adolf Hitler saw the 1936 Berlin Olympics the same way. Many Americans today remember the Berlin Olympics as a victory for the good guys, because African American track star Jesse Owens won four gold medals, an implicit challenge to Hitler’s claims of “Aryan” racial superiority.

But in reality, The Games were a triumph for the Nazis in the way that mattered most — improving the Hitler regime’s image abroad.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had ample warning that the Nazis intended to use the games for propaganda purposes. The U.S. ambassador in Germany, William Dodd, reported to Washington that the Nazis intended to use the Olympics “to rehabilitate and enhance the reputation of the ‘New Germany.’”

Foreigners will “have only the usual tourist contacts,” he wrote, and are likely to come away doubting the veracity of “the Jewish persecution which they have previously read in their home papers,” he predicted. The 2,000 translators hired by the Hitler government were also being trained at “parrying embarrassing questions and insinuating praise of National Socialism in their small talk,” Dodd wrote.

Dodd’s warnings went unheeded; the Roosevelt administration rejected the boycott as undue interference in American-German relations

But he was right: The New York Times praised the German government for its “flawless hospitality.” A Los Angeles Times correspondent wrote that “Zeus, in his golden days, never witnessed a show as grand as this.” An editorial in that newspaper even predicted that the “spirit of the Olympiads” would “save the world from another purge of blood.”

Even President Roosevelt was taken in — or perhaps he was looking for a way to justify America’s participation. Meeting with American Jewish Congress leader Rabbi Stephen S. Wise shortly after the games, the president told Wise he had learned from two tourists who had attended the Olympics “that the synagogues are crowded and apparently there is nothing very wrong in the situation [of Germany’s Jews] at present.”

Rabbi Wise wrote later that he was horrified by FDR’s comment. Wise tried to “explain to him how grave conditions were….[I] told him of some recent happenings in Germany….Cited other examples of the ruthless and continuing oppression of the Jews. He listened carefully; but I could see that the tourists (whoever they were, the Lord bless them not) had made an impression upon him.”

In 1980, the U.S. government made a different calculation: the Carter administration boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics as a protest against the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. In his interview, Trump claimed that this boycott “didn’t work.”

The Trump argument, apparently, is that since the boycott did not bring about a Soviet withdrawal, it was a failure. But that view misunderstands the purpose of the 1980 boycott.

President Carter obviously didn’t expect that his gesture alone would convince the Soviets to leave Afghanistan; it was a symbolic protest. A boycott of the Chinese games likewise would be symbolic.

But symbols are important. Such foreign policy gestures help shape international opinion and establish standards for how governments respond to crises around the world.

If the Biden administration does not undertake a substantial symbolic protest, such as a boycott, it would send a message to China’s leaders that their brutal human rights abuses are of no concern to the United States. That is a dangerous message to send.

The U.S. government looked away during the Holocaust, not to mention more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur. America’s response to ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and mass atrocities in Syria was also too little, too late. It’s time for a new kind of U.S. response.

Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust.


Cathal Kelly of the Globe calls out the hypocrisy and weakness of “diplomatic boycotts:”

Let’s try to imagine how a diplomatic boycott might work in your own life.

You told your neighbour that you’d go over to her house for her annual New Year’s Eve party. Then you found out that she runs a dog-fighting ring or some similarly heinous activity on her property.

You are so morally repulsed that skipping the party isn’t enough. You feel the need to get on the neighbourhood group chat and announce you’ve come to a difficult decision. After a lot of soul searching, you’ve determined that no decent person should be seen to support such a person and their party. With that in mind, you will not be attending this year. Instead, you will stay home rubbing your rosary beads. You’re not going to go so far as to call anyone else who would attend such a party lower than a serpent’s belly, but it’s implied.

Also, in unrelated news, your kids will be going to the party. They’ve been looking forward to it all year and you can’t bring yourself to let them down.

Yes, there may be dog fighting and assorted other violence going on while they are in the house. Maybe they’ll be able to hear whimpering from the garage. But you don’t want to be the ogre who ruined everyone’s night out.

You heard there’s going to be a raffle at the party. What if your kids win a bunch of stuff and bring it home? Well, what can you do? You can’t stop them from winning. As much as it pains you, you’ll have to enjoy the spoils with them.

In summation, this party is wrong and you are against it.

This isn’t exactly what Washington has done in announcing an ersatz boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics. What it has come up with makes less sense than that.

America’s long-rumoured halfway measure – the diplomatic boycott – was officially announced on Monday. It doesn’t amount to much. It’s a more impressive sounding way of saying you are eliminating Olympic junkets. Now all the sad, second-rate pols from North Dakota and Maine won’t get flown private to Beijing so they can take a bunch of ego shots with Auston Matthews.

In the announcement, America’s rationales for taking this action were cast by White House spokesperson Jen Psaki in Second World War terms: “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity.” It is difficult to imagine more serious charges.

Yet elsewhere in the same remarks, Psaki sounded the executive air horn on behalf of her boss: “We will be behind [America’s Olympic athletes] 100 per cent as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games.”

That. What you did right there. That is fanfare. Fanfare’s what you call it when you root publicly for athletes. Eliminating the fanfare would mean saying nothing at all.

Fanfare is what this is about, though not the usual sort. We are speaking of political fanfare – controlling and redirecting the sporting kind so that it lands on the right politicians.

This is a leadership looking to be congratulated for doing the right thing, while getting to do what they self-evidently believe to be the wrong thing.

Take earlier comments about the proposed boycott from Robert Menendez, the senator who chairs the foreign relations committee. He called it “a necessary step to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to human rights in the face of the Chinese government’s unconscionable abuses.”

I’m sure the people suffering those abuses can discern the difference between American athletes holding up the Stars and Stripes on Beijing podiums and the American VIPs who will no longer be whooping it up in the stands behind them. Perhaps “unwavering” means something different in Menendez’s district.

You can’t be said to be taking a stand unless it involves some sort of sacrifice. What has America given up here? Nothing. Less than nothing. This move saves them on airfare.

This isn’t moral leadership. It’s outrage mitigation. Washington needs to be seen doing something, but nothing so substantive that it might interfere with everyone’s fun times. Unable to boycott and just as unable to not boycott, America has chosen a boycott that isn’t a boycott. Except it has called it a boycott. Cool trick.

Playing silly buggers with language makes it possible for everyone to oppose China as party host, while still enjoying the jingoistic boost that comes from attending China’s party.

Had America said nothing about a boycott and quietly ordered officials to stay home, its position would at least be logically consistent. That would have allowed them to give the athletes, broadcasters, corporate sponsors and voters/fans what they want, without confronting the implications of what that means. It wouldn’t be very honourable, but would at least make some sense.

Putting a name to America’s semi-absence reveals it as a hypocrite. What else would you call accusing someone of mass murder, congratulating yourself on your own bold truth-telling and then helping yourself to their hospitality?

Now we’ll see what America’s allies do, and what China does in turn. Beijing has already promised “firm countermeasures.”

Would it be possible for an Olympic host to pull out of a Games a few weeks before they start? The idea would not have even occurred to me a couple of weeks ago, but it’s beginning to feel like a lot of impossible scenarios are now possible.

For those who are still Beijing or Bust, there is good news. Despite all the hot talk, we are still in the posturing stage. No one has yet done anything to put the Games in doubt.

For those who had hoped for a moral stand on this file, there is no news at all. Just more of the same nonsense meant to obscure the fact that no one wants to take any position that might force them to tell the kids they can’t go to the globe’s most lavish and beloved circus.


Lastly, a useful Angus Reid survey showing that 40 percent, higher than I expected, support a full boycott (athletes) compared to 53 percent the “virtue signalling” diplomatic boycott:

Not since the 1980 Games in Moscow has Canada declined to send athletes – or officials – to the Olympics.

But as the U.S. announces a diplomatic boycott of next February’s Winter Games in Beijing – other Western nations are being asked their intentions.

While the Canadian government contemplates who – if anyone – it will send to the Olympics, a new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds just over half of Canadians (53%) supportive of their country taking the same measure as the U.S., denying any diplomatic presence in Beijing.

Two-in-five would go further, keeping athletes home from China as a protest against human rights abuses in the host country.

Overall, four-in-five (78%) support some sort of boycott. Despite this sentiment, the vast majority are resigned to the fact that Canadian protest will have little impact on China’s domestic policy. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say it is “unrealistic” to expect actions taken by this country will change China’s behaviour.

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More Key Findings:

  • Favourability towards China has increased since Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were released from prison and returned to Canada, but it is the minority view. One-in-six (16%) Canadians say they hold favourable views of the country.
  • Half (48%) of Canadians who view China positively say there should be no boycott of the Games; one-in-five (17%) of those who view the country negatively say the same.
  • Men between the ages of 18 and 34 are the most supportive of officials and fans staying home at two-thirds (63%) and half (47%) respectively.


Olympic Games are great for propagandists – how the lessons of Hitler’s Olympics loom over Beijing 2022

Canadian sports journalists to note:

On the morning of Aug. 14, 1936, two NBC employees met for breakfast at a café in Berlin. Max Jordan and Bill Slater were discussing the Olympic Games they were broadcasting back to the United States – and the Nazi propaganda machine that had made their work, and their visit to Germany, somewhat unpleasant. 

Slater complained about all the staged regimentation and the obviously forced smiles everywhere. 

“Why don’t they revolt? We wouldn’t stand for all this browbeating and bullying in America. I know that. Why do they stand for it here?” Slater asked Jordan. 

As they were talking, three armed Nazi guards sat down at the next table. The whole café quieted. “It was as though a chill had come over those present,” Jordan later recalled. “In a nutshell, there was the answer to Bill’s question.”

I included the story Max Jordan recounted in his memoir in my book on the Nazi origins of Olympic broadcasting because it perfectly encapsulated the quandary facing American sports journalists whenever the International Olympic Committee pushes them to broadcast happy images provided by repressive regimes.

It’s now less than 100 days from the opening ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, and therefore it’s time for an honest discussion about the ethics of sport journalism and the morality of American media’s complicity with authoritarian regimes that hide the active repression of their citizens.

Abundant evidence

The world knows what China is doing right now. Courageous reporting has publicized the series of repressive domestic and international actions taken by the Chinese government over the past five years.

The persecution of the Uyghurs and other human rights abuses, the abrogation of the Hong Kong treaty along with the imposition of the Chinese government’s repression in that port city, and the prevention of a comprehensive and transparent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 are all well documented. 

Thus, the Chinese government now wants good press in the West. And its efforts to ensure favorable coverage have prompted new concerns about media control and censorship during the Games, with a U.S. government spokesman recently urging Chinese government officials “not to limit freedom of movement and access for journalists and to ensure that they remain safe and able to report freely, including at the Olympic and the Paralympic Games.”

But, as was clear from the experience during the 1936 Olympics, if U.S. journalists go to Beijing and emphasize the beauty of its landscape, the happiness of its citizenry and its futuristic infrastructure, and fail to cover the more controversial realities in China, that would signal compliance with – and promotion of – Chinese propaganda. 

This is American sports journalism’s Red Smith moment. 

Politics, meet sports

On Jan. 4, 1980, Walter “Red” Smith, the veteran New York Times sports columnist, surprised his readership with his endorsement of the boycott movement against that summer’s Moscow Olympic Games. Boycott advocates were protesting the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. 

Smith’s stance was unexpected, as he had carefully sidestepped – or even ignored – many other moments he considered unhealthy political intrusion into international athletic competition. But Smith wrote that history had proved that America’s participation in the Nazi Games was a mistake – even if the great Black American runner Jesse Owens redeemed the event in public memory.

“When Americans look back to the 1936 Olympics,” Smith wrote in his famous column, “they take pleasure only in the memory of Jesse Owens’ four gold medals.” Outside of that, he admitted, “we are ashamed at having been guests at Adolf Hitler’s big party.”

Smith was an old-school sports reporter, already an old-timer in 1980 – he died in 1982. His reporting and columns reflected the influence of Grantland Rice and Paul Gallico, the giants who invented modern American sports writing in the 1920s. But there had always existed another group of sports reporters less afraid to point out obvious political unpleasantness.

For example, the great Jimmy Cannon had no problem freely peppering political references and acerbic commentary throughout his columns. Westbrook Pegler detested the Nazis and criticized them relentlessly throughout the 1936 Games. And Howard Cosell’s sharp commentaries, on such issues as Muhammad Ali’s boxing suspension in the 1960s and the political activism that erupted in 1968 in Mexico City, remain a credit to his legacy.‘The U.S. Olympic Committee … is in the main a group of pompous, arrogant and medieval-minded men who regard the games as a private social preserve,’ said Howard Cosell.

That Red Smith had spent decades remaining largely apolitical in public made his support for the boycott surprising. That he was only the second sports columnist to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize, and that his opinions were widely respected, gave his endorsement significant clout. 

‘The one lever we have’

Smith opened the gates for others to point out the incongruity and obvious hypocrisy of celebrating the Soviet Union’s peaceful intentions while the Soviet army was invading and occupying Afghanistan. In his column, Smith quoted British Member of Parliament Neville Trotter, who led the boycott movement in Great Britain. 

“This is the one lever we have to show our outrage at this naked aggression by Russia,” Trotter told Smith. “We should do all we can to reduce the Moscow Olympics to a shambles.” 

One well-known and nationally respected sports journalist has explicitly and unambiguously called for boycotting the 2022 Beijing Games: Sally Jenkins. The Washington Post’s veteran columnist – who last year was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for commentary – published a scorching column plainly stating that “ignorance is no longer an excuse.”

“It was a forgivable mistake to award an Olympics to Beijing in 2008,” she wrote. “It’s unforgivable to hold one there now.”

Red Smith’s boycott column remains one of his most important and lasting examples of public service. As a media historian, I believe that those who emulate his courage today, like Sally Jenkins, will likely be remembered in the same way tomorrow.


Cole: Xi is not attending the Glasgow summit; why is Canada going to the Beijing Games? Good question

Of note:

As world leaders gather in Glasgow this week for the COP26 summit on the global climate crisis, the absence of China’s president, Xi Jinping, has not gone unnoticed. China’s would-be president for life did not even deliver a speech by video. Instead, he sent a mere written statement bereft of any concrete commitments.

There has been abundant speculation about why Xi hasn’t travelled outside China for the past 21 months. The COVID-19 pandemic only partly accounts for this self-isolation. More to the point, Xi’s absence in Glasgow can conceivably be attributed to his refusal to brush elbows with U.S. President Biden and other members of the democratic camp.

Indeed, doing so would suggest that Beijing is giving in to external pressure to adjust its policies, in light of how it has made collaboration with the United States on climate change contingent on Washington ending its criticism of China’s destabilizing behaviour and domestic crackdown.

Beijing’s strongman is unyieldingly committed to a world view that has hijacked co-operation with the world’s second-largest economy and rising superpower on matters that affect us all. Unless the West abandons its pressure on Beijing to act responsibly at home and abroad, the world will be taken hostage by a party apparatus that gives precedence to ideology over the universal good. 

Xi’s star outside China has dimmed considerably in recent years, largely the result of Chinese military assertiveness in the East and South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, Beijing’s coverup of the origins of the COVID outbreak, and its rampant human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong. There is no doubt, therefore, that Xi would have been an outlier — and perhaps even shunned — at Glasgow. And for the head of an ultra-personalistic authoritarian party-state, such humiliation cannot be countenanced. 

With China inflexible in its ideology and led by a president who cannot stand losing face on the international stage, the question arises as to whether the democratic camp, of which Canada is a proud member, might also want to consider making its chumminess with China more conditional. 

On matters of global — and vital — importance, such as climate change, all governments should be able to set aside their differences, and Ottawa should have no compunction in collaborating with Beijing on this issue even if we have serious differences over human rights, democracy and territorial ambitions. 

However, on matters of a less planetary scale, especially activities that serve as platforms to propagandize in favour of Xi’s highly repressive regime, the democratic camp should really ask itself whether it wants to be complicit.

If Xi is willing to let his ideological differences with the West get in the way of his country’s participation in efforts to secure a decent future for the generations to come, then why should we, in the democratic camp, legitimize his dogmatism and authoritarianism by participating in the Beijing Winter Games — an event that the communist regime will assuredly exploit to the hilt to promote its disturbingly Orwellian system?

By hijacking co-operation on combating climate change, Beijing seeks to condition us into abandoning the liberal-democratic rules of the game that have defined us for several decades. It wants us to be silent on the excesses of its ideology, and to look the other way as it subjects hundreds millions of its own citizens — ethnic minorities chief among them — to treatment that hearkens back to Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Gulag.

However much Beijing and its propagandists seek to discredit research into what has been going on in Tibet and Xinjiang, evidence of systematic human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing is now incontrovertible, the result of decades-long research by dozens of Western and Chinese academics and journalists. That, alone, should compel our governments to question the wisdom, and the very morality, of giving face to a regime that orchestrates such abominations.

We can’t afford not to combat climate change; but we can certainly afford to be a no-show at next year’s despotic games.

J. Michael Cole is a Taipei-based senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.


Saint-Jacques: Canada needs a new engagement strategy that opposes China’s thuggery

Good practical approaches us, although not easy to implement. The Winter Olympics provide an important pressure point that should be used:

The 11-year prison sentence handed to Michael Spavor is just the latest example of the ruthlessness of China’s efforts to put pressure on the Canadian government, and in turn on the U.S. administration, to return Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. As The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote on Aug. 13: “China’s kangaroo courts operate in service to the country’s Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping, whose contempt for international standards of law and justice is manifest.” As Times Wang outlined in The Globe last week, Canadians should refuse to recognize China’s “justice” system.

While a short-term resolution of the case can only come from Washington, it is not clear that U.S. President Joe Biden is ready to spend the political capital necessary to let Ms. Meng return to China. Of course, an elegant solution for both Ottawa and Washington would be if the judge presiding over the case were to decide after the extradition hearings conclude that Ms. Meng’s rights were not respected when she was arrested and orders her released.

In any case, detailed negotiations will still be required to guarantee the safe return of the two Michaels to Canada and, hopefully, a decision by the Chinese supreme court to cancel the death penalty against Robert Schellenberg, who was convicted of drug smuggling. And let’s not forget that we have three other Canadians sitting on death row in China with no consular access to other Canadians, including Xiao Jianhua and Huseyin Celil, both abducted abroad by China.

Ottawa needs to adopt a more robust strategy to counter China’s attack on international law and norms, as well as its interference and spying activities in Canada. The electoral campaign offers an opportunity to ask political parties how they envisage future relations with China.

Knowing China has used hostage diplomacy with increasing frequency in the past 15 years, and following the adoption of the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-States Relations in February, Canada should agree with its allies on a common strategy, including sanctions, that would be applied against China if it dares to take people hostage again.

To prevent China from weaponizing trade, as it did against us after the arrest of Ms. Meng and is doing now with Australia, and since some commodities come from a limited number of countries, Canada should propose to the United States and Australia to conclude an agreement that no signatory would increase its exports to China of wheat, canola, beef, pork, metallurgical coal, iron ore and others above its historical share of the Chinese market if one of the three is victim of such sanctions.

An offer could be made to other countries to join later. China would quickly understand that it could no longer divide us by increasing its imports from another supplier.

Democratic countries should also agree to continue to protest against China’s flouting of the agreement to guarantee Hong Kong’s autonomy until 2047, and against China’s human rights abuses – including the continuing genocide in Xinjiang – by asking for a full investigation by the UN.

One important and difficult deadline is looming on us: the holding of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February. Since the number of cases related to the Delta variant is increasing in China, Canada and allies should ask that the Games be postponed to February, 2023. They should also specify that if China does not agree to let a UN investigation team go to Xinjiang immediately, and if it continues to deny the World Health Organization complete, unrestricted access to investigate the origin of COVID-19, Canada and the United States will offer to jointly host the Olympics using existing facilities in Vancouver, Whistler and Seattle. This would also prevent China using the event for propaganda purposes.

To counter China’s influence in the developing world through its Belt and Road Initiative, which finances global infrastructure projects, Western countries need to offer an alternative with more investment and assistance. They must also demonstrate that a democratic system presents more long-term potential than the Chinese authoritarian regime.

It is important to distinguish between Chinese leaders and Chinese citizens: Chinese immigrants have made a great contribution to Canada’s development and the government should declare that Canada remains open to Chinese nationals, including students, and will provide support to all Chinese nationals seeking asylum from state persecution, including those from Hong Kong.

Let’s hope the new government elected on Sept. 20 will quickly produce a new engagement strategy with China that opposes its thuggery and meets the expectations of Canadians.

Guy Saint-Jacques served as Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016.


Could Olympics offer leverage against China’s ‘hostage diplomacy’?

More discussion regarding potential boycott of the Beijing winter olympics. Good comments by former ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques:

The looming espionage convictions of two Canadians in what has been called an act of “hostage diplomacy” should push this country to take a tougher stand toward the Chinese regime — and a hard look at the upcoming Beijing Olympics, observers say.

Verdicts in the cases of the so-called two Michaels — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — were expected this week, with Spavor’s verdict anticipated as early as Tuesday evening.

The outcome scarcely seemed in doubt. The conviction rate in China is 99.7 per cent, as touted by China’s own Supreme People’s Court.

A third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, had his death sentence upheld Monday as a Chinese court rejected his appeal. He had been sentenced in January 2019 on charges of drug trafficking.

All three Canadians are widely believed to have been targeted by China in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is going through extradition proceedings in Vancouver that would send her to the United States to face fraud charges related to her company’s dealings with Iran.

The Chinese executive comes from a powerhouse family in China with influence in both the political and business world, and her arrest in December 2018 at the Vancouver airport was seen by Beijing as a grave insult. Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, were arrested in China days after Meng was detained in a tactic that observers have dubbed “hostage-taking diplomacy.”

Beijing has made it clear that they will not release the men unless Meng walks free.

So, what is Canada — a small player on the international scene — to do as tensions mount and the fate of the three detainees grows bleaker? The country finds itself stuck between two of the world’s most powerful nations in China and the U.S., which has an extradition treaty with Canada and holds most of the cards in the geopolitical situation swirling around the prisoners.

Former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, says this country could reach out to its allies and lobby that the Winter Olympics, set to take place in Beijing in February, be taken off the table and perhaps even relocated to North America.

“What does a country need to do for the world to decide, ‘Well, this country does not deserve to host the Games?’” he said.

“We know there’s a genocide going on in Xinjiang; we know they aren’t respecting the agreement with the UK on the autonomy of Hong Kong; we know how badly they managed the first phase of the pandemic; we know what they are doing in the South China Sea, how aggressive they are towards Taiwan.”

Should the Games continue to be held in Beijing anyway, there should be an agreement that no foreign leaders attend the opening ceremony, he said.

“You make this public and tell China, ‘This is what’s going to take place unless you agree to a full investigation … in Xinjiang,’” he said, referring to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where reports of genocide carried out by China have caused international condemnation.

“China will use it for political purposes, for its prestige,” said Saint-Jacques.

Clive Ansley, retired from 36 years of legal practice in both Canada and China, who now works as a consultant on legal issues related to China, said there are well-documented human rights abuses in China and called the idea of the Games being held there “absolutely obscene.”

Ansley cautioned, though, that using Olympics as leverage poses risks.

“It’s almost like a kind of blackmail,” he said, adding that negotiating on that front could make the situation look like it’s politically driven, rather than driven by the principle of law and Canada’s treaty obligations to the United States.

Ansley said he supports continuing the extradition process for Meng — as bad as the situation facing the detainees is.

“We can’t just walk away from that,” he said. “Because the result of that would be an absolute guarantee that every time we have a dispute with China, their first recourse will be hostage diplomacy. Their first instinct will be to grab the nearest Canadian.”

Both Sainte-Jacques and Ansley said that the world has to consider tough trade sanctions on China.

“China, under the Chinese Communist Party, is an international outlaw,” said Ansley. “When China commits an illegal act under international law, then we need to stop pussyfooting around and trying to appease China.”

Saint-Jacques said the federal government has to “develop more concrete” strategies for dealing with China. He said there has been some movement from Canada, which led the way for the recent signing of the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations by dozens of countries.

When the closed-door trials for the two Michaels took place in March, representatives from other countries showed up to support them and to denounce the secrecy of the Chinese court, labelling it a violation of the country’s international bilateral treaty obligations.

“We are at the stage where we have send some concrete challenges to China and we cannot do this working alone,” Saint-Jacques said.


Italy’s citizenship law back in focus as multicultural stars triumph at Tokyo Olympics

Of note. Will see extent to which if influences the policy debates:

Italy’s enthusiasm over its Olympics success, driven in part by multicultural athletes, has once again reignited debate over its citizenship law and the bureaucratic hurdles faced by thousands of young people.

The debate comes on the heels of Italy’s best performance in history at the Olympic Games, with 40 gold medals from a diverse band of athletes from a variety of backgrounds, including the country’s new star, Texas-born sprinter Lamont Marcell Jacobs.

The debate was sparked anew after the head of Italy’s National Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, complained of the bureaucratic headaches confronting Italian-born athletes who want to compete for their country but lack citizenship.

Under its current path to citizenship, Italy is an outlier in Europe, providing rights based on blood ties rather than based on where children are born – an idea known as “ius soli”, or “right of the soil”.

Children born in Italy to foreign parents must await their 18th birthdays before applying for citizenship, beginning an arduous process that can take four years, one that Malago described as “a Dante-esque circle”.

After Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said Malago’s criticism was valid, far-right leader Matteo Salvini, head of the populist Lega party, retorted that the minister would be better served controlling the countries’ borders than rekindling “ius soli”.

In Italy, the far-right has linked the debate over citizenship with the ongoing migrant crisis, which this year has seen 31,777 migrants land on the country’s coasts, more than double that in the same period in 2020, according to interior ministry figures.

“I think the important thing is that for these kids we have to think of social inclusion,” Lamorgese told La Stampa daily on Tuesday, noting that the issue went beyond Italy’s young athletes.

“They have to feel an integral part of society,” she said.

‘Full-fledged Italian’

There are various paths to citizenship in Italy — Jacobs’ citizenship was accorded through his Italian mother despite being born in the United States to an American father — but that involving children of two foreign-born parents is the most complicated.

Case in point is 17-year-old pole vaulter Great Nnachi, who was born in Turin to Nigerian parents, and is already a champion. Having broken records throughout her teens, she most recently won a junior title with her personal best of 4,01 metres in February.

But her records are not recognised by the state, as she is not technically Italian, and she cannot compete for Italy in international competitions.

“Despite being a full-fledged Italian, I can’t represent my country in sports,” Nnachi told La Stampa Tuesday. “I’m an Italian champion but I can’t demonstrate it outside the border.”

Italy’s national statistics agency Istat calculates there are about 800,000 minors in Italy who would receive Italian nationality were “ius soli” adopted, while some 60,000 newborns a year would become automatically Italian.

According to Italy’s Olympic Committee, 46 of its athletes who competed in the Tokyo Olympics this year were foreign-born.

Source: Italy’s citizenship law back in focus as multicultural stars triumph at Tokyo Olympics

Kidd: Boycotting the next Olympics in Beijing will hurt athletes: Here’s a better idea [no, its not]

More naiveté regarding China and the IOC. Ironically, Kidd’s example of the 1936 Berlin Olympics underlines the weakness of his proposed approach:

With the Tokyo Olympics coming to an end, human rights activists are expected to step up their campaign against the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing in protest against the genocide of the Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking people in Xinjiang, the colonization of Tibet and the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. They will call upon the International Olympic Committee to cancel or move the Games that start in just six months, and if that fails, they’ll urge athletes to boycott. 

As frightening as those human rights abuses are, they’re not likely to persuade the IOC or athletes to change their plans for Beijing. Cancelling, moving or boycotting the Beijing Olympics runs counter to the very purpose and history of the Olympic movement and places athletes in an untenable position.

Choosing a different strategy

Given the almost constant tensions in world politics and international sports, boycotts and threats of boycotts have almost been an accepted feature of the modern Olympics. The first occurred at the inaugural Games in Athens in 1896, when German gymnasts known as “turners” refused to participate because most of the events were British sport.

There have been feminist boycotts (British women stayed away from Amsterdam in 1928 when the IOC reneged on its promise to add 10 women’s events to the athletics program), podium protests against racism (Tommie Smith, John Carlos and other U.S. athletes in 1968), so-called recognition boycotts (Taiwan left in 1976 when the IOC refused to call it the “Republic of China”), anti-apartheid boycotts (29 African and Caribbean teams walked out of the Montreal Olympics in 1976 to protest a New Zealand rugby tour of apartheid South Africa) and Cold War boycotts in 1956, 1980, 1984 and 1988.

In 1936, an international coalition of socialists, labour unions and churches not only mounted a highly visible boycott campaign against the staging of the Games in Nazi Germany, but tried to hold a counter-Olympics in Barcelona. It was only cancelled when the Spanish general Francisco Franco led an armed attack upon the city on the morning of the opening ceremonies, starting what became the bitter, three-year Spanish Civil War.

While the Olympic movement is not indifferent to human rights, it seeks to bring representatives of every community in the world together for peaceful dialogue and sports — recognizing that there are very real political and ideological differences among nations.

To build such a big, inclusive tent, it makes few demands upon National Olympic Committees, the international federations that govern the sports or the host countries. It’s the sporting equivalent of the long-held principle of “non-intervention” in the internal affairs of nation states.

As the world has begun to contemplate the obligation of the international community to safeguard citizens from an abusive national state, activists are calling on the IOC to apply and enforce human rights upon National Olympic Committees, federations and host countries. That battle is far from won.

The IOC has been able to withstand boycotts because it selects its own members, a grossly undemocratic process that ironically has enabled it to stand up to the strongest governments. In 1980, in the face of intense pressure from U.S. President Jimmy Carter to cancel or move the Moscow Olympics, the IOC voted unanimously to go ahead. 

While most athletes are concerned with human rights, an earlier generation learned in 1980 that governments, corporations and human rights activists are quick to volunteer them for symbolic actions, only to find that they’re the only ones who actually sacrificed something important.

In 1980, the government of Pierre Trudeau forced Canadian athletes to stay home, despite their strong objection, and then cut their funds afterwards. The oral history of that bitter experience looms large in the informal discussions about the proposed Beijing boycott currently taking place among Canadian athletes.

A way forward without boycotting

Is there a way for the Olympic community to attend the Games without legitimizing atrocities in China? As an Olympian and an academic who has studied the Olympic movement for decades, I believe there is.

Instead of the IOC knuckling under host country repression, as it did in Beijing in 2008 and Sochi in 2014, it should ensure that the freedom of expression now guaranteed in the revised Rule 50 should be respected during the 2022 Winter Olympics. Activists should insist that no one will be penalized under the revised rule.

Secondly, the IOC should affirm the importance of human rights and full intercultural exchange in the opening ceremonies and the schedule of events and meetings in the Olympic Village, as modern Olympic founder Pierre de Coubertin always intended. That would give athletes and others concerned about human rights the opportunity to express their views freely with other Olympic participants and their hosts without constraint.

There is Olympic precedent that needs to be remembered and strengthened. In 1936, when he arrived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany for the Winter Olympics, IOC president Henri Baillet-Latour found the city plastered with anti-Semitic, Nazi propaganda. He immediately met with Adolf Hitler and demanded that the posters and flags be taken down.

Hitler is said to have replied: “When one visits a home, one doesn’t immediately ask the host to redecorate.” Baillet-Latour rejoined: “Yes, Mr. Chancellor, but when the Olympics is held, it’s not a national city but an Olympic city, and should be held according to Olympic rules. The propaganda must come down.” It did.

Baillet-Latour also established the requirement that the host country must recognize every participant duly entered by a National Olympic Committee, regardless of their background, a stipulation that ensured full participation in Berlin and during the Cold War.

In the end, the 1936 Games were a tremendous propaganda victory for Hitler, and the world lost sight of the safeguards won by the IOC. But an updated version of that strategy would be useful today.

The IOC should make it clear that while it’s grateful to China for hosting the Winter Olympics, the Olympic movement guarantees the right to free speech — including the condemnation of genocide and other abuses — within the Olympic precincts. Activists should support it.

It would be an important step on the long road to human rights.


China slams Olympic boycott call, ‘politicization of sports’

The Special Committee on Canada-China Relations should stop making virtue signalling calls for the Olympics to be moved (won’t happen) and join the British parliamentary committee in calling for a boycott:

China on Thursday criticized what it called the “politicization of sports” after British lawmakers urged a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics unless China allows an investigation of complaints of human rights abuses in its northwest.

A boycott “will not succeed,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

The British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee called for the government to urge British companies to boycott the Beijing Games, scheduled for February. The appeal adds to pressure on China’s ruling Communist Party over reports of mass detentions and other abuses of mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

“China firmly opposes the politicization of sports and the interference in other countries’ internal affairs by using human rights issues as a pretext,” Wang said. “Attempts to disrupt, obstruct and sabotage the preparation and convening of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games out of political motivation have been met with strong opposition from all sectors of the international community.”

China, which rejects the accusations of abuses in Xinjiang, has denied the United Nations unfettered access to the region to investigate the claims.