Jules Boykoff: China is no place for the Olympics

Human rights abuses in the country clash mightily with the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter
Children hold signs during a demonstration by a coalition representing Tibetans, Uyghurs, Southern Mongolians, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese and Chinese rights activists Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Boston. Charles Krupa/AP Photo.

The following is adapted from remarks made by Jules Boykoff and Dick Pound in a Munk Debates podcast. Read Dick Pound’s column at The Hub and listen to the whole episode at

The Olympics tend to bring out the best in athletes but the worst in host cities, whether we’re talking about Beijing, Tokyo, Los Angeles, or London. China is no place for the Olympics because extreme human rights abuses in the country clash mightily with the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter.

Take the Chinese government’s treatment of the ethnic Muslim population in Shenzhen Province. Take the brutal crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. Take China’s ongoing mistreatment of Tibetans. It’s impossible to square these actions with the fundamental principle of Olympism that trumpets the harmonious development of human-kind and the preservation of human dignity.

To be sure, every country commits human rights abuses, including the U.S., which is slated to host the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, where homelessness is a humanitarian crisis in plain sight. However, China is part of a small subset of countries that is actively pursuing crimes against humanity. Moreover, Beijing has a track record when it comes to the Olympics, and it’s not pretty. The city hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, and politics were once again at the forefront. Beijing’s bid team explicitly claimed that the games would create a ground swell of democracy and human rights in China. But nothing of the sort transpired. Instead, the government used the Olympics as a pretext to retool its repressive apparatus.

China not only used the 2008 Olympics to intensify its domestic surveillance of targeted groups, but also to market its surveillance systems to the world. Media and the Internet were censored during the games. Activists were rounded up and detained. Journalists were arbitrarily arrested. Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch noted that to secure their right to host the 2008 Summer Games, the Chinese government made many promises to improve human rights. These promises were broken one after the other.

China used the 2008 Olympics to intensify its domestic surveillance of targeted groups.

Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, argued that the Chinese government’s hosting of the games was actually a catalyst for abuses. Since 2008, the human rights situation in China has only worsened. And yet this did not stop the International Olympic Committee from choosing Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

So I’m arguing we need to learn from history, not mindlessly repeat it. We need to read the present moment and act, not close our eyes to it and just hope for the best.

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