The US Government of President Joseph Biden has announced Monday it would boycott the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games to be staged in Beijing, China, starting Feb. 4, as a response to human rights abuses in the host nation.
The athletes on Team USA have our full support, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. ”We will be behind the 100% as we cheer them on from home. (But) we will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games in light of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses. The official wanted it to be clear that athletes willing to compete would not be barred from it, but the country would not send an official delegation in disapproval of China's actions.
“We have a fundamental commitment to promoting human rights. And we feel strongly in our position and we will continue to take actions to advance human rights in China and beyond,” Psaki added. It cannot be business as usual, Psaki added.
It was also reported that human rights groups had lobbied the White House to push for a full-scale boycott of the 2022 Games, but such a decision was up to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The International Olympic Committee said it fully respects the White House's decision. The presence of government officials and diplomats is a purely political decision for each government, which the IOC in its political neutrality fully respects.
At the same time, this announcement also makes it clear that the Olympic Games and the participation of the athletes are beyond politics and we welcome this, the IOC went on.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said such a move would be an “outright political provocation,” which would result in firm countermeasures.
China was feared to use the Games as a propaganda tool to give international legitimacy to practices incompatible with democratic standards. Biden advisers have said China was engaging in genocide against the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group in China's Xinjiang region, where over 1 million people have reportedly been placed in re-education and labour camps, although Government officials have claimed those actions were linked to terrorism and separatism and not about human rights.”
China has also come under intense scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault allegations made by tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared from public view after accusing Zhang Gaoli, a former vice-premier and member of the ruling Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, of forcing her to have sex with him.
This is not the first time the US has used the Olympic Games to register objections to a host country's policies. American athletes boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow under pressure from President Jimmy Carter, who viewed the boycott as a sanction after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Dozens of other countries joined the U.S. in its boycott, and the Soviet Union responded with its boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Monday's announcement came as Biden is about to host a White House Summit for Democracy, a virtual gathering of leaders and civil society experts from more than 100 countries Thursday and Friday “to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had been advocating for a diplomatic boycott for months, welcomed Biden's decision, but she was critical of the IOC for “allowing a country notorious for its appalling human rights record to host the Olympics makes a mockery of the Olympic Charter, which states that the Games should seek to foster ‘respect for universal and fundamental ethical principles.’”