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China Can’t Silence Olympic Athletes

Democratic states need to warn Beijing against punishing Olympians who speak out.

By Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute

Spectators wearing "Where is Peng Shuai?" T-shirts, are pictured in the stands during the women's singles final match of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29. WILLIAM WEST/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

JANUARY 31, 2022

The Beijing Winter Olympics will soon arrive despite foreign opposition. China defeated foreign efforts to cancel, boycott, or move what some activists call the “genocide games,” despite the very late, half-hearted diplomatic boycott issued by the United States and a handful of its allies. But the democratic world can still take one important step: protecting the rights of the athletes themselves.

Cancellation was never likely. That would be both a political and economic disaster involving one of the shrinking number of countries willing to take on the costly international games.

Consider that the only remaining major bidder for these games was Kazakhstan—which erupted in bloody protests and a government crackdown last month. As for a boycott, there is little support for a repeat after the tit-for-tat 1980 and 1984 boycotts, which tarnished the Games while achieving nothing significant.

A move also was impractical, with little time, few possible sites, and a global pandemic further limiting options. Only a country willing to bear Beijing’s displeasure could step in, leaving just the United States and Canada as plausible substitutes among post-2002 hosts.

Nor was the highly political International Olympic Committee (IOC) ever likely to sacrifice the Games on principle.


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