From February 4 to 20, the 24th Winter Olympic Games will be held in Beijing. These are the first Winter Olympics held by China, and Beijing will become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics. This is a grand and happy event for both the sporting world and China, but it has been troubled by political noise.
Last December, the White House announced that President Joe Biden’s administration would diplomatically boycott and send no official US delegation to the Beijing Winter Olympics, citing “China’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.” Three other members of the Five Eyes alliance, the UK, Canada and Australia, subsequently joined the diplomatic boycott; the fifth member, New Zealand, did not.
Of course, there are also international supporters of the Beijing Winter Olympics, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Singaporean President Halimah Yacob and UN Secretary General António Guterres. While it is true that in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it is understandable that some are reluctant to attend the Games in person, but boycotting it for political reasons defies understanding.
Last year, First Lady Jill Biden led the US delegation to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, but President Biden now is choosing to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics. The US has demonstrated a hypocritical double standard regarding its ally Japan and its rival China. Human-rights concerns are just an excuse.
The Fundamental Principles of Olympism include “political neutrality” and “autonomy of sport”. The Olympic Charter further states that the Olympic spirit requires mutual understanding, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. The diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics is clearly against such principles and spirit and should be discouraged.
The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, said, “The Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 come at an important moment to bring the world together in the Olympic spirit of peace, solidarity and unity.” He is right. Great powers should use these Games to reunite the whole world rather than to fight with one another.
To hold the Games on schedule under the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, China expended extra energy and innovation, such as a closed-loop management system and using Singapore as a transit hub. The organizers also vow to make the Beijing Winter Olympics the “first carbon-neutral Games.” China’s efforts should be cheered rather than boycotted.
We should try to ensure that every Olympics is an arena for sports rather than politics. According to the current president of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, the Beijing Winter Olympics show the progress of human technology and science and showcase the best side of China and the best side of all mankind.
He is right.
Sun Xi, a China-born alumnus of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is an independent commentary writer based in Singapore. He is also founder and CEO of ESGuru, a Singapore-based consultancy firm specializing in environmental, social and governance issues.