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Amidst call to boycott 2020 Beijing Winter Olympics, Canada says it would warn athletes against publicly criticising China

China has threatened of imposing sanction on those who back out from participating in the 2022 winter games.

As China gears up to host the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing in February next year, the call to boycott the winter games being hosted by China next year has been growing. Amidst all this, the Canadian Olympic organisers have said that they would warn its athletes to refrain from openly criticising China ahead of the winter games. The decision was taken due to concerns that the Communist Party’s critics could be prosecuted under the draconian national security law.

David Shoemaker, chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said that the athletes have been asked to not to comment at least until after the Games have taken place.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Shoemaker said: “There have been dissents in Honk Kong, who have been taken away and charged for saying thing contrary to the Communist Party of the Chinese Government’s policies. So we will talk to our athletes about the implications of what they say and of the topics that they choose to speak about.”

Expressing his disapproval over calls to boycott the Beijing Olympic winter games next February, the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee opined that the boycott is unlikely to effect the alleged persecution of China’s Uighur Muslims who have been facing a systemic campaign of detention and abuse under the Communist Government of China. He also said that instead, the boycott may have a negative impact, making things worse for the two Canadians- Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, detained in China.

By attending the Olympics the athletes would definitely be part of the “most spectacular sporting event in the world”, however, before the event the committee would spend a considerable amount of time counselling Olympians as to what they might consider not to comment on, at least until the games are over.

It is pertinent to note here that before taking up the post of the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, David Shoemaker served as the CEO of the National Basketball Association (NBA) of China, which came in the line of fire by Chinese authorities after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s October 2019 Tweet that voiced support for protests in Hong Kong. 

Though he had deleted his Tweet almost instantly, it could not stop Chinese broadcasters from not airing NBA games, companies from cancelling NBS sponsorships or vendors from selling league merchandise. Chinese online giant Tencent, blocked streaming Houstan’s games for almost 15 months, only to resume in January this year.

This was an typical example of China’s practice of mixing sports and politics, owing to which the Canadian Olympic Committee CEO talks of being extra cautious.

According to reports, since the Houston Rockets’ incident, many human-right activists and parliamentarians have batted for the boycott of the 2022 winter games by the Canadian Olympic Committee, which they think would serve as a loud protest against the Chinese secessionist government which has overseen a dramatic erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong, stepped up oppression and humiliation of Uyghur Muslims and the arbitrary detention of the two Canadian nationals, which was largely seen as an act of political-hostage taking.

However, Shoemaker dismissed the idea of boycott saying that it would not be fair to take away a lifetime opportunity from athletes. Moreover, he said that boycotting the winter games which is being hosted by China next year, might infuriate the Communist government who would surely perceive it as a great insult, and this may also hinder the chances of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor being released any time soon.

Additionally Shoemaker said that history has it that boycotting Olympics has never been effective. Such was the case in 1980, when Canada joined the US to boycott attending the summer Olympics in Moscow in protest against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, said the CEO, furthering that despite the boycott the Soviet union remained in Afghanistan for almost a decade even after that year.

Meanwhile, the family of the detained Canadian Michael Kovrig also opined that boycotting the winter game was no solution.

Some people belonging to Canada’s Uyghur community opined that participating in the games hosted by China would amount to betraying what the country stood for. Moreover, John Higginbotham, a Canadian diplomat who advocated the boycott was also of the opinion that Beijing’s recent actions “meet the test fully” for the boycott. “What more do we need? Public execution of the Michaels? asked the irked diplomat.

There have been growing calls for boycotting the Winter Olympics, which celebrated their one-year countdown last Thursday. Several Canadian MPs signed an open letter calling for a boycott last week and asking for the Games to be relocated from the Chinese capital.

Meanwhile, China has threatened of imposing sanction on those who back out from participating in the winter games. According to the editor-in-chief of the state-backed nationalist tabloid Global Times, China will respond to Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic boycotts with serious sanctions towards any countries that pull out.

Sharing a screenshot of an article in The Guardian website, headlined “MPs urge British Olympians to boycott 2022 Beijing Winter Games”,  Hu Xijin wrote on Twitter on Sunday: “Boycotting 2022 Beijing Winter Games, an unpopular idea, won’t receive wide support. IOC and athletes will both oppose it, and China will seriously sanction any country that follows such a call.”

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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