USOPC: Boycott of Beijing Olympics 'not the solution' to address alleged genocide, human rights violations

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The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee took a firm stand against a potential boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Thursday, arguing that one would be ineffective and unfairly punish athletes.

USOPC CEO Sarah Hirschland sent a two-page letter to Congress arguing for certainty about the U.S. status for the Games scheduled for next February.

“Please give them that chance,” Hirschland wrote of U.S. athletes, per the Associated Press. “They do not deserve to train for the games under a cloud of uncertainty about American participation in the games.”

Hirschland's letter aligned with a USOPC stance against Olympic boycotts. She argued that U.S. attendance could help shine a light on the human rights concerns in China and argued that a 1980 U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics served no benefit.

USOPC: Previous boycott had 'no diplomatic benefit'

The U.S. led a boycott of the 1980 Games amid a Soviet Union occupation of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union in turn led a boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games. 

“To make matters worse, their sacrifice had arguably no diplomatic benefit,” Hirschland wrote of the 1980 boycott. “The Soviet Union stayed in Afghanistan for another decade. ... Both the 1980 and 1984 Games tainted Olympic history and showed the error of using the Olympic Games as a political tool.”

Activists of the International Tibet Network holds Tibet's flags in front of the IOC headquarters during a protest against Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on February 3, 2021 in Lausanne. - A coalition of campaign groups issued an open letter calling on world leaders to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics over China's rights record. The Games are scheduled to begin on February 4 next year, just six months after the delayed summer Tokyo Olympics, but preparations have been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
Activists call for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland in February. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

Why the protest over Beijing Olympics?

The Beijing Games are under global pressure from activists calling for an international boycott over China's alleged human rights violations in Tibet, Hong Kong and toward the Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic group of around 12 million people native to Northwest China. 

The Chinese government is accused of committing genocide against the Uyghurs including mass sterilization, forced labor, separating children from families and conducting re-education camps. The U.S. has joined other nations including Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in leveling accusations of genocide and human rights violations against China.

In 2018 the United Nations cited credible reports that China was holding up to a million Uyghurs and Muslims in detention centers. Protests over China's alleged human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Tibet are well-documented. 

White House: 'No discussion' of a boycott

The USOPC will formally make the decision over whether to attend the Beijing Games, but will do so alongside political pressure.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in April that the U.S. had not engaged in any formal discussions of a joint boycott.

"Our position on the 2022 Olympics has not changed," Psaki said. "We have not discussed and are not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners. We, of course consult closely with allies and partners at all levels to define our common concerns and establish a shared approach.

"But there's no discussion underway of a change in our plans regarding the Beijing Olympics."

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