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Britain must send a strong message to China and boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

4 min read

In response to sanctions against us we pledged to call out China’s human rights abuses even more loudly. Boycotting the 2022 Olympics will show China that democracies cannot be bullied, and human rights matter.

On Christmas Eve in 1979 Russia invaded Afghanistan. As a result of that unprovoked act and the subsequent brutal oppression of any Afghanis who got in the way of the occupying Russian forces, 65 countries carried out a full boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games held in Moscow the following summer. Amongst those nations supporting the boycott were strange bedfellows like the US and Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia, and China.

Whilst governments of countries like the UK, France and Australia supported the boycott they left the final decision to National Olympic Committees and individual athletes. As a result, some British athletes competed whilst our equestrians and hockey players stayed at home. We competed under the Olympic flag and the Olympic anthem replaced the national anthem at the few Gold Medal ceremonies we participated in (in those days.)

My overriding memory of the 1980 Olympics was a triumphant and emotional Daley Thompson collecting his world record beating Decathlon gold medal and belting out God Save the Queen from the podium to the tune of the choral cantata that is the Olympic Hymn.

So, in February 2022 the Winter Olympics are due to be back in Beijing and China really cannot be surprised if this time a bit of what goes around comes around, aimed at them. That is why I have applied to hold a debate in the Commons, including a vote committing the UK to exercise a diplomatic boycott of the Olympic Games if an alternative venue is not found and if Chinese state terror is still being meted out to the Uighurs, Tibetans and others. Additionally, it would be conditional on the Chinese government not lifting sanctions on we 7 Parliamentarians, a British academic and lawyer and sundry British right of centre human rights’ groups.

In response to those extraordinarily inept and counter-productive sanctions against us, the Speaker granted an urgent question debate in which we pledged to call out China’s human rights abuses even more loudly. Subsequently Nus Ghani guided a vote through Parliament recognising the Uyghur genocide; we have heard shocking testimonies of torture at the Westminster Uyghur Tribunal hearings and virtually every week the issue of China’s totalitarian government is raised in Parliament in some form.

We cannot endorse the appalling abuse by sending ministers, royalty and diplomats to join the applauding crowds

In addition, we have been in regular Zoom calls with parliamentarians from the US to Australia, from the European Parliament to the IPU, whose response to China’s attempts at gagging democratically elected politicians is to turn up the volume and impose consequences.

One of those consequences is an internationally co-ordinated diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Olympics. Throughout this month similar motions and debates will be put to parliaments and ministers in initially 11 countries, with a high chance of success. If we can pass a similar motion in the Commons, we will be at the vanguard of showing China that democracies cannot be bullied, and human rights matter.

To China, hosting the 2008 summer Olympics was a huge propaganda coup. They used it to try to convince the world that China was a modern emerging superpower and had changed. It may have emerged since then, but it has certainly not changed. A million Tibetans dead and imprisoned since the 1959 occupation then, a million Uyghurs incarcerated and tortured now.

China should never have been selected as hosts in the first place and whoever thought them fit to uphold the Olympic values of ‘excellence, friendship and respect’ needs sanctioning too.

We know from the Moscow Olympics that the biggest victims of a full sporting boycott were the athletes themselves and so we are not asking them to make that sacrifice. But we cannot endorse the appalling abuse by sending ministers, royalty and diplomats to join the applauding crowds.

By staying at home, a strong message will be sent and we know from the threats they have already made against an anticipated US boycott that they take seriously the loss of face it would represent. That is the least they should be suffering and I hope enough colleagues agree and step forward with their vote to get this motion through Parliament.


Tim Loughton is the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham.

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