Glavin: Canada can’t just shrug off the debate over the Beijing Winter OlympicsComments Off on Glavin: Canada can’t just shrug off the debate over the Beijing Winter Olympics
Originally published by Ottawa Citizen on February 10, 2021
Now that a rising global movement to move the 2022 Winter Games from Beijing is finally starting to pick up steam in Canada, there’s a debate worth having about it, and some difficult questions to be raised. Can the International Olympic Committee be made to reverse its preposterous 2015 host-city decision in favour of Xi Jinping’s ravenous, globe-encircling police state? Is it possible to settle on a more civilized venue in time? What should Canada do if the effort fails?
These are among the difficult questions that arise no matter what we might think about Canadian flags on an Olympic podium being put to use as rags to wipe away the several provisions of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide that the Xi regime is transgressing in the course of enslaving and obliterating the Uighur people of Xinjiang.
But before we get to any of those questions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will have to be shifted from the unequivocal standpoint it has adopted, which is that none of this is any of our business. The federal government has outsourced these decisions to the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees, and that’s all there is to say, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau’s office has been helpfully straightforward in explaining.
And then there are all the questions that arise from the rationale that various Olympic committee officials have provided, which several Liberal MPs have echoed, as to why the Winter Games must proceed as planned and according to Beijing’s wishes. The first among these questions is this one: Just how stupid do these people think we are?
Dick Pound, the most senior of the International Olympic Committee’s 98 members and former president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, points to the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics as “completely ineffective” because the Soviet Union was still occupying Afghanistan a decade later. “Boycotts don’t work,” COC chief executive officer David Shoemaker and Canadian Paralympics Committee CEO Karen O’Neill argued in an opinion essay published in the Globe and Mail last week.
Apart from the usual treacle about how the Olympics “help build connections and open doors” and provide a “unique means for the promotion of peace and development, for uniting rather than dividing,” Shoemaker and O’Neill claimed that their critics want an Olympic boycott to be “the first order of business to reshape our relationship with China.”
That’s just straight-up untrue. Human rights organizations, advocacy groups mobilizing on behalf of Tibetans, Mongolians, Uighurs, Hongkongers and China Human Rights Defenders, and Canadian parliamentarians across the political spectrum, have spent years begging for effective measures – Magnitsky Act sanctions, for instance – to re-order Canada’s obsequious relationship with China.
The focus on the Olympics hasn’t just come out of the blue, either. The IOC ignored warnings from international human rights organizations six years ago that allowing China to host the 2022 Winter Games would only serve the regime’s purposes in silencing its critics. And now, the COC is playing right along, warning Canadian athletes to mind what they say in Beijing lest they offend the sensibilities of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and run afoul of the regime’s draconian national-security laws.
You would think Shoemaker would know better, and of course he does know better. Shoemaker came to his top COC job from a post leading the National Basketball Association’s China operations, which suffered massive reprisals – blacked-out broadcasts, boycotted merchandise, cancelled contracts – all in retaliation for a single Tweet in 2019 by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey: “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”
It’s quite true that the Soviets were still carpet-bombing Afghanistan nearly a decade after the American-led 1980 Olympic boycott. Nothing changed, you could say. But nothing changed when the western democracies went all in for the Third Reich’s 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, either. All that Olympic “promotion of peace and development” didn’t dissuade the Nazis from annexing the Sudetenland, kicking off the Second World War and incinerating six million Jews.
The IOC’s decision to award Russia the 2014 Winter Games venue in Sochi didn’t cause the Kremlin to repeal its hateful laws against the LGBT community, but it did serve to further engorge Vladimir Putin’s circle of bloated oligarchs. The Sochi Games were supposed to cost $12 billion. The final bill exceeded $51 billion. When the IOC ignored China Human Rights Defenders’ pleas and awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics to the People’s Republic, the regime was not shamed into dropping its policy of bankrolling and arming the Sudanese atrocities in Darfur – the first genocide of the 21st century.
Awarding Beijing the massive propaganda victory of the 2008 Olympics did not dissuade the regime from descending into depths of despotism unmatched since the days of Mao Zedong, nor cause Xi Jinping to have second thoughts about dismembering what little was permitted to remain of Hong Kong’s autonomy. If anything, the regime was encouraged in its degenerate habits, eventually kidnapping the Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The two Michaels have been imprisoned for more than two years now, in retaliation for Canada’s detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a 13-count U.S. Justice Department extradition warrant.
But pity the poor Canadian athletes, Shoemaker and Pound and the rest of the Olympic establishment plead. These fine young people have trained so hard to compete in this glamorous international forum. Why victimize them?
“We are not the ones who are victimizing the Canadian athletes,” Ivy Li of Canadian Friends of Hong Kong told me. Ivy’s group, along with Students for a Free Tibet Canada, the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project and several prominent Canadians, including former Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, are calling on the IOC to back away from Beijing and move the Winter Games to a free country.
“The athletes are being victimized by a very bad decision of the IOC. The IOC ignored all the protests and all the advice they were given. They didn’t listen,” Li said. “They gave Beijing the games and they are putting our athletes in this tough spot. Our athletes should not want medals that have been soaked in blood.”
A separate, similar initiative has united Bloc, Conservative, NDP and backbench Liberals who are calling on the federal government to intervene and urge the IOC to find another host city for the Winter Games. “Some may argue that sports and politics should not mix,” the parliamentarians say in a letter they all signed. “We would respond that when genocide is happening, it is no longer a matter of politics, but of human rights and crimes against humanity.”
The Conservative Party’s foreign affairs critic, Michael Chong, and Green Party leader Annamie Paul, have taken the same line. Paul says the federal government should look into finding a Canadian venue for the Winter Games.
Parliamentarians in Europe and the United Kingdom are taking up the same call to move the 2022 Winter Games out of China. While Joe Biden’s new administration hasn’t had much to say on the subject beyond a pledge to develop a “shared approach” to the issue with American allies and partners, there’s a bipartisan push in the U.S. Congress to give the Beijing games a pass.
The main challenge in Ottawa, however, is simply convincing the Trudeau government that Canadians are entitled to have some say in these things at all.
Terry Glavin is an author and journalist.