The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee is asking members of Congress not to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over China’s human rights abuses against the ethnic minority Uyghur population in the country.
In a letter obtained by Politico, Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the committee, wrote, “There may be no more important Olympic and Paralympic Games than the ones ahead. The world spent more than a year isolated, quarantined, and afraid. Watching the world’s Olympians and Paralympians compete at both the upcoming Summer and Winter Games will be an inspiring human achievement. Thousands of competitors from around the world standing before the Olympic and Paralympic flame will mark the world’s emergence from the past year’s troubles.”
Hirshland noted how some members of Congress have called for a boycott of the Olympic Games and “have raised valid concerns about China’s conduct, including the oppression of the Uyghur population which the United States has designated a genocide.”
The letter continued, “We too are troubled by the situation in China. The USOPC does not condone actions that undermine the core values of the Olympic movement—values that include diversity, peace, and respect for human dignity.”
Hirshland stated, however, that “an athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to geopolitical issues,” citing a recent Morning Consult poll that showed that “roughly two-thirds of Americans oppose a boycott of the 2022 Winter Games.”
Hirshland noted that the history of Olympic boycotts is not an encouraging one. She wrote, “In 1980, the U.S. government called for an athlete boycott of the 1980 Olympic Summer Games in Moscow as a way of pressuring the Soviet Union into leaving Afghanistan. As a result, 461 American athletes…qualified to compete in Moscow only to have the opportunity taken from them. Many never had the chance to compete at the Olympic Games again.”
Hirshland added that “their sacrifice had arguably no diplomatic benefit: The Soviet Union stayed in Afghanistan for another decade”
Hirshland argued that the Games “are a chance for the United States to showcase the values that make our country strong and respected: Our belief in fair competition; our commitment to the dignity of all people; and our support of the hard work and lifelong commitment of athletes from every state in the nation.”
New information about the Xinjiang region was recently revealed after the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that the populations of ethnic minorities in the area had seen a drastic decrease in birth rates over the past few years.
The report found that in April 2017, Chinese Communist Party officials in Xinjiang began “strike-hard” campaigns against “illegal births” with the main goal to “reduce and stabilize a moderate birth level” and lower the birth rate in southern Xinjiang by at least 4.00 per thousand from the levels in 2016. Before this move, there had been exceptions from family-planning efforts for indigenous nationalities.
The report stated, “The crackdown has led to an unprecedented and precipitous drop in official birth rates in Xinjiang since 2017. The birth rate across the region fell by nearly half (48.74 percent) in the two years between 2017 and 2019.” The most intense drops have occurred in places where Uyghurs and other indigenous people are located. Throughout counties that are populated by a majority of indigenous people, the birth rate dropped, on average, by 43.7% in one year between 2017 and 2018. The birth rate in counties populated by 90% or more indigenous people dropped by 56.5%, on average, in that same year.
Last month, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson in China pushed back against allegations that there are human rights violations taking place against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. He warned of a nonspecific “robust Chinese response” to a potential boycott of the Olympics, The Associated Press reported.
“The politicization of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries,” said the spokesperson, Zhao Lijian. “The international community including the U.S. Olympic Committee will not accept it.”
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