The head of the International Olympic Committee vowed to stay “politically neutral” on China’s alleged human rights abuses, saying that speaking up for the Uyghurs could hurt the Olympics.
IOC President Thomas Bach, speaking at a press conference on the eve of the opening ceremony at the Beijing Winter Games, said not only would he remain neutral but that Olympic athletes who demonstrate against the Chinese Communist Party during the Games would be similar to an actor in Hamlet bringing up politics in the middle of a performance.
“If we are taking a political standpoint, and we are getting in the middle of tensions and dispute and confrontations of political powers, then we are putting the Games at risk,” Bach said. “If, at the end, you would have Olympic Games only between national Olympic committees whose governments agree on every political situation, the Games would lose their universality, and with the universality, they would lose their mission. And that would lead to the end of the Olympic Games.”
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The 2022 Games have been dubbed the “Genocide Olympics” by critics who believe the competition should not be held in a country responsible for a host of human rights abuses. The United States believes the CCP is conducting a genocide against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang in western China, though China denies it.
Forced Uyghur labor, as well as technology used to repress Uyghurs and Chinese citizenry, has been in the spotlight in the weeks leading up to the Games. Several Chinese companies awarded contracts for the Games are linked to alleged CCP repression.
While critics have called out the IOC and even participating countries for sending delegations to the Games in a country accused of human rights abuses, Bach said the competition must be viewed separately.
“The mission of these Olympic Games, like any Olympic Games, is bringing the world together in peaceful competition — uniting humankind in all of our diversity, always building bridges, never ever erecting walls,” Bach said Thursday.
Bach drew his Shakespearean metaphor when asked about the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50, which prohibits demonstrations and political, religious, or racial propaganda by Olympic participants.
“If an actor is engaged in a theater playing Hamletthen nobody asks the question then, when playing Hamlet, if he must or should or can express then, during the play, his political opinion,” Bach said. “The same is true, therefore, with the athletes. When the curtain falls, then the actor can go to his locker room, and he can take his mobile device and can send a message. Or when he is leaving the theater and the press is awaiting him, he can make his comments on him.
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Bach is not the only world leader urging athletes not to speak out during the Games. Earlier this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi advised US athletes not to criticize the CCP’s human rights abuses while in Beijing, warning them not to risk “incurring the anger of the Chinese government.”
But State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday that “US athletes are entitled to express themselves freely in line with the spirit and charter of the Olympics, which includes advancing human rights.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism