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Why Athletes Are Boycotting the Olympics and You Should Too

Every two years, countries around the world come together in the spirit of patriotism and the unity of sportsmanship to compete in the Olympic Games. These consist of warm and cold weather sports and take place in a new “host city” every year. The success of Chinese propaganda at Beijing 2022 rests on the athletes’, the fans’, and the broadcasters’ willingness to treat these games as business as usual. However, with the reports of at least one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities have been subject to involuntary detention in what China labels “reeducation camps”, can we really turn a blind eye? 

For months, U.S.-based activists have been meeting with Olympic athletes from Western countries to encourage them to speak out about the Chinese government’s mass atrocities (Rogin). More than 1 million Uighurs and other minorities from Xinjiang are believed to be held in internment camps, where they are “forced to study Marxism, renounce their religion, work in factories and face abuse(Schecter)”. Beijing says these “re-education camps” provide vocational training and are essential to fight extremism, but the torture methods used for punishment of breaking rules include beatings, electric shocks, and stress positions, according to a report covered by NBC(Schecter ). Torture methods also include sleep deprivation, being hung from walls, being locked into a steel chair with connected leg irons and handcuffs that render the body immobile. 

It would make sense to speak out about this, but the concern of athletes participating in the Olympics is the threat of punishment from the Chinese government if they talk about human rights. As a result, almost all have avoided addressing the subject publically, and most of the outcry comes from the concerned public. Alhough many Western countries have characterized Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs as genocidal, China denies mistreatment of these minorites. As a public gesture of defiance, China chose an Uyghur athlete to help deliver the Olympic flame in the 2022 Winter Games opening ceremony Friday in response to the many Western countries holding a diplomatic boycott (Folmar ). President Biden and leaders of other nations decided not to send any government officials to the Games this year. These diplomatic boycotts are a response to concerns about China’s human rights practices. 

U.S. Olympic athletes have a long tradition of using their platforms to speak out against host governments or their own government at the Olympics. In 1936, Jesse Owens spoke out against Nazism before winning four gold medals in Berlin. In Mexico City in 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised a black-gloved fist on the medals podium. Smith later said it was a “human rights salute” (Rogin). 

In 2022, the Olympics is being held in a country credibly accused of perpetrating an ongoing genocide. Any athletes protesting those abuses, even if only by staying away from the Opening Ceremonies, are standing up for human rights everywhere. As always, these athletes deserve our admiration, protection, and support. We can support these activists even more this year by not tuning into the live games, and supporting them on social media or YouTube recaps instead. 
Linked here is a petition you can sign to stand up for the Uyghur Muslims in China that over two million people have signed: Stand Up For The Uyghur Muslims In China

Mamie is a junior Political Science and Religion double major at Furman. Outside of HerCampus, she is also a member of the Chi Omega sorority, Army ROTC, and writes for the Paladin Newspaper. Following college, she will commission as an Officer in the US Army. Her interests are hiking, cooking, writing, working out, social justice, and spending quality time with her people.
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