Beijing Olympics boycott a non-starter: historian
TORONTO -- As pressure builds for a boycott or relocation of next year’s Olympic Games in Beijing, one longtime Olympic historian says the idea is a ‘non-starter’ and that past efforts have done little to affect human rights violations in host countries.
“First of all, I think it’s a non-starter for the simple reason that the International Olympic Committee and the various sponsors are committed to having these Olympics,” David Wallechinsky said on CTV’s Your Morning Monday.
Several human rights groups, as well as the leaders of the federal Conservative and Green parties, have called for a boycott or relocation of the Games due to the treatment of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region, and many have criticized crackdowns on pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong and the ongoing detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
The CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, David Shoemaker, has said that a boycott would be the wrong approach to addressing human rights issues in China.
Canada has only participated in one Olympic boycott, the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Others have included a boycott by about 30 mostly African countries of the 1976 Montreal Games over the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to ban New Zealand after the country’s rugby team toured South Africa.
But according to Wallechinsky, such efforts tend not to have the desired effect. “They don’t really achieve that much except for high profile for the politicians who call for the boycotts,” he said, pointing to the 1980 Moscow boycott.
“It didn’t change the Russian government policies, Soviet policies,” he said, noting the tight domestic media control in the Soviet Union at the time and in China today.
Asked whether it would make sense to simply ban human rights violators from hosting Olympics, Wallechinsky pointed to the difficulty in convincing countries to take on the burden of hosting the Games, which carry enormous costs. In the case of the 2022 Games, the only other candidate to make it through to final voting was Kazakhstan, a country that has also come under criticism for its human rights practices.
“The problem is that when the voting came down from the International Olympic Committee to choose the hosts of the 2022 Winter Olympics, there were only two candidates,” he said.