Canada announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics, athletes will still compete
Canada will proceed with a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, meaning government officials won’t attend but athletes can continue to compete.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on Wednesday during a press conference alongside Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge.
“We are extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government. That is why we are announcing today that we will not be sending any diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympic, Paralympic Games this winter,” Trudeau said.
“Our athletes have been training for years and are looking forward to compete at the highest level against athletes from around the world. They will continue to have all of our fullest support.”
The U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott on Monday as a means of protesting against human rights abuses in China towards the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the U.S. has a "fundamental commitment to promoting human rights" and that it "will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games."
Since then, Australia and the U.K. have followed suit.
China has denied those allegations and says the boycott violates “the principle of political neutrality of sports established by the Olympic Charter and runs counter to the Olympic motto `more united,"' Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters.
Trudeau said China shouldn’t be surprised by the move.
“We have been very clear over the past many years of our deep concerns around human rights violations and this is a continuation of us expressing our deep concerns,” he said.
In a statement late Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy denied Trudeau’s claims of human rights abuses and expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with Canada’s decision.
"Based on ideological biases as well as lies and rumours, Canada and a handful of western countries have been flagrantly engaged in political manoeuvring, with the attempt to disrupt the smooth progress of Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games," the embassy said in the release.
"Their clumsy performance can hardly find any support and is doomed to fail."
The embassy added that Canada isn’t in a position to judge others on their human rights record.
“China's human rights situation is at its historical best, a fact that is recognized by all those without bias,” the statement continued. “Canada, by contrast, has committed heinous crimes against Indigenous people. Until today, systematic racial discrimination is still severe in Canada. Canada is simply not qualified to be ‘a human rights preacher’ and is certainly in no position to judge China on this front.”
Many former diplomats and international security analysts have suggested Canada should go further and enforce a full boycott, withdrawing all Canadian presence, including athletes.
Asked about this, Joly reiterated that athletes should be kept out of political dispute.
“Our athletes have worked extremely hard to get there. They have trained hours, they’ve travelled the world, they’ve competed…this is a situation that needs to be dealt with diplomatically and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” she said.
In terms of athlete safety on the ground, St-Onge said the government is working closely with the RCMP to ensure robust security measures are in place.
“There are already agents that have been hired to ensure the security of the athletes and we’re still in discussion with the RCMP, with [Public Safety Minister] Marco Mendicino and everything will be in place to make sure that the athletes are safe. That’s our priority,” she said.
The RCMP have in the past worked with the Canadian Olympic Committee on safety precautions ahead of Olympic Games.
“In this particular situation, it is obvious that we want to make sure that our athletes have access to protection services and that’s why we’ll be working with the RCMP but also we will be liaising with our embassies and missions across China because we want to make sure our diplomatic services on site are there,” Joly added.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Wednesday he approves of a diplomatic boycott.
“We shouldn’t send a message that we accept treatment of the Uyghurs, and we accept the situation in Hong Kong so at this stage a diplomatic boycott is appropriate,” he said.
The NDP have also sought to push the government in this direction.
“I think this was a good decision today,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Wednesday.
COMMITTEES ‘RESPECT’ MOVE
The CEO and Secretary General of the Canadian Olympic Committee David Shoemaker and the CEO of the Canadian Paralympic Committee Karen O’Neill say they “understand and respect” the government’s decision not to have political representation at the Games.
“We also recognize how this announcement draws the important distinction between the participation of athletes and the participation of government officials at the Games,” the statement reads.
It goes on to acknowledge China’s concerning conduct but notes that the Olympics create an “important platform” to draw attention to them.
Dick Pound, member of the International Olympic Committee, echoed a similar sentiment Wednesday.
“Canada seems to have moved on from its position in 1980 in the Moscow boycott where the athletes should pay the only price for political issues. So I think there’s been a good division made there,” he told CTV News Channel.
At the time, prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau made the call to block athletes from attending the summer games in Moscow a year after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Pound said the diplomatic boycott is unlikely to impact the Games at all.
“The world is waiting for these very wonderful and special Games coming up in February. Those will go on, they’ll be well organized as we knew they would be, and the athletes have every opportunity to do their best in the best possible conditions and that’s what it should be,” he said.
With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press