Should Canada boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics? It’s a question that has been debated locally, regionally and nationally in the last few years.
As an avid sports fan who loves watching the Olympics, and as a former sports reporter and photographer – my favourite assignments for this paper are still those I get to write about local athletes and teams – I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but I’m in the pro-boycott camp. There are just too many reasons why we should not send our athletes to China next winter.
China’s persecution of the Uyghur population and Turkic Muslims in recent years has been deemed a genocide by various human rights groups and multiple national governments. According to the BBC, China has detained more than 1.8 million Uyghurs, placing them in “re-education camps.” A BBC article states there is evidence Uyghurs have been used as forced labour.
In February, the majority of Canada’s Members of Parliament – 266 out of 338 – voted in favour of a motion to label China’s actions against Uyghurs a genocide. Other countries that have labeled China’s acts as a genocide include the Netherlands, the United States, Lithuania and the United Kingdom.
Another reason to support a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics is the continued imprisonment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians who were arrested on Chinese soil in 2018 on unfounded espionage charges. Their detention came shortly after Canadian police arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, on behalf of an extradition request by the United States. The arrest of the “two Michaels’ was widely seen as an act of retaliation by the Chinese government against Canada.
There is precedent to Canadian athletes boycotting the Olympics; in 1980, Canada participated in a boycott of the Moscow Olympics. That boycott was led by the United States, in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Of course, there are many who still want Canadian athletes to perform in Beijing next year. I recently read an interesting Maclean’s interview with Tricia Smith, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. Smith, who won a silver medal as an Olympic rower for Canada in 1984, was among the athletes impacted by the 1980 boycott.
In the interview, she said boycotting the Moscow Olympics had no effect on the Soviet Union’s international relations, as the country stayed in the Middle East for the next eight years. She added boycotting the Games “further entrenched the positions of the governments,” and impacted the athletes more than anyone else.
The ideal solution would be for the 2022 Olympics to be moved to another city, but I recognize how difficult and unlikely that would be, given the scope of planning an Olympic Games and the notorious and well-documented corruption of the International Olympic Committee.