People walk past the Water Cube, which will be known as the Ice Cube when it hosts events for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Canada will not boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing despite calls from human rights organizations to do so. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Schiefelbein

People walk past the Water Cube, which will be known as the Ice Cube when it hosts events for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Canada will not boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing despite calls from human rights organizations to do so. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Schiefelbein

Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic teams won’t boycott Beijing’s Games

Some Canadians have written on social media and comment forums that their country should boycott Beijing

Canada will not boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing despite calls from human rights organizations to do so.

A coalition of 180 rights groups want a boycott of Beijing’s Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games because of reported human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in China.

The games open in a year, Feb. 4, 2022, followed a month later by the Paralympic Games.

Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive officer David Shoemaker and Paralympic counterpart Karen O’Neill spoke to The Canadian Press on the ineffectiveness of a boycott, as well as the importance of Canada’s participation in Beijing.

Canada joined a U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The Soviets not only remained in Afghanistan for another eight years, but led a revenge boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

“We only really have two choices here,” Shoemaker told The Canadian Press. “The choices are to pull out, to barricade ourselves, to divide, to further polarize and say out of protest we’re not going to go, or to engage and be part of a conversation, to amplify voices, to speak our mind on things that are important to us and to participate in the Games.

“When faced with those choices and the lessons learned from Moscow in 1980 and L.A. in 1984, the choice is clear.”

The rights coalition representing Tibetans, Uighurs, Inner Mongolians, residents of Hong Kong and others has issued an open letter to governments calling for a boycott of the Olympics “to ensure they are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent.”

Some Canadians have written on social media and comment forums that their country should boycott Beijing because of the continued imprisonment of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Their arrest was seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 on a United States warrant. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges.

Shoemaker calls these issues “deeply concerning”, but believes the majority of Canadians want their athletes competing in Beijing.

He cites the 91 per cent of the country’s population that watched the 2016 Summer Games in Rio on television, and the 75 per cent who viewed the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, despite the 13-hour time difference.

“Having said that, we don’t want to minimize what’s happening in the host country,” Shoemaker said.

“We have serious concerns in particular about what’s happening to Muslim Uyghurs in Western China, and have discussed that with the Canadian government and the Canadian ambassador to China.

“They’ve assured us that it’s their top priority and being addressed on a government-to-government basis.

“We therefore see our role in this to deliver our teams to Games and be part of a conversation to amplify stories and to inspire and unite.”

Canada’s participation in the Paralympic Games raises the profile of and changes perceptions about the disabled in the host country, in Canada and around the world, O’Neill added.

“Our athletes are capable of great things and the impact on the overall message of access and inclusion in the local community, that’s an additional overlay from the para side of things,” she said.

Sport as an agent of social change leaped to the forefront in North America in 2020.

Led by the Milwaukee Bucks not taking the floor for a playoff game, the NBA, NHL, WNBA and Major League Baseball cancelled games after the Aug. 28 police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Wisconsin.

Shoemaker, a former head of NBA China before joining the COC, said NBA players eventually returned to the court with social-justice messages on their jerseys, and either knelt or locked arms during anthems, because athletes felt they could bring about more change by playing than not.

Canadian athletes can similarly change more by participating than they can from the sidelines, Shoemaker said.

“Canadian Olympians and Paralympians are very socially conscious and they’re very aware of what’s going on in China,” he said.

“I’ve spoken with the athletes’ commission about that and we’ve begun to tackle similarly, what kind of programs within our control can we do to advance the very causes that we think are being challenged or are in peril in China right now.”

Shoemaker wasn’t yet CEO of the COC in 2014, but he pointed to the Canadian team’s campaign ahead of the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in the face of the country’s homophobic laws.

The COC loudly and continually heralded Canadian athletes across the country walking in Pride parades, which are illegal in Russia, the summer before the Sochi Games.

“I understand there were similarly some calls for boycott because of an anti-LGBTQ-plus set of laws and rules in Russia that were very hostile to Team Canada,” Shoemaker said.

“We made the decision, a difficult one, to go, but to strengthen our resolve around those kinds of programs and messages here in Canada.

“We now have among the most inclusive programming with an LGBTQ-plus focus you could imagine, which is a direct result of Team Canada competing in Sochi and being part of a conversation.”

Canada’s Paralympians want to compete in Beijing, but will not do so with their heads in the sand, O’Neill said.

“The memory of how the boycott did not obtain the kind of results, and in fact many would argue the negative far eclipsed what was thought to be the goodness in the boycott, in my whole sport career, I don’t think I’ve ever heard such an open, transparent conversation in our community about appreciating what’s going on, and what can be done within their role and context of both leading up to and during the Games,” O’Neill said.

Former Olympic speedskater Susan Auch, who is now CEO of Canada’s national teams, doesn’t want Canadian athletes feeling the same devastation their 1980 counterparts did when told by their government they could not compete in to Moscow.

“I firmly believe nothing good comes from boycotts,” Auch said. “Politics and sport tend to come together, but they shouldn’t.

“From my perspective as a former athlete, I would say sport is a time where we need to put aside our differences and play the game.”

— With files from The Associated Press

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

ChinaOlympics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Regenerative farming that meets genuine needs should take priority over commercial recklessness, says columnist. (Stock photo)
Column: Hubris, greed causing humans to live destructively

Placing the economy as the top priority is licence to destroy natural systems, says columnist

Kyle Patrick McGuire was give a nine-month non-custodial sentencing to be followed by two years of probation on Wednesday, March 3, at the Nanaimo Law Courts. (PQB News file photo)
Bowser man sentenced to house arrest after guilty plea to child pornography offence

Nine-month non-custodial sentence to be followed by two years probation

A concept for development of the Green Thumb property in north Nanaimo. (Barefoot Planning and Design image)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Develop land with care and thought

It’s getting to the point that you can’t go a block without seeing more apartments, says letter writer

Nanaimo Community Archives is looking for submissions from homeowners who took on exterior renovation projects, no matter how big or how small, for the first Heritage House Renovations Awards. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo archives holding first Heritage House Renovation Awards

Judges want photos and descriptions of exterior renovations that enhanced character of Nanaimo homes

Nanaimo Courthouse. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Justice system is failing us

Crime rampant, police overworked, businesses targeted, citizens unsafe, says letter writer

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

A rendering of Front Street transportation improvements set to get underway as soon as next week. (McElhanney image/City of Nanaimo)
Work set to start on Front Street cycle track in downtown Nanaimo

Road work and street reconfiguration project scheduled to start in March, finish in May

The Regional District of Nanaimo’s board is forwarding a motion on illegal dumping to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities’ upcoming annual general meeting. (Kane Blake photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo motion seeks to ask province for help to combat illegal dumping

RDN resolution to be forwarded to Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Most Read