With days to go, human rights groups question whether China should be awarded another Olympic Games

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The International Olympic Committee will make its decision about which nation will host the 2022 Games July 31, and rights groups are questioning — and petitioning — the committee about China’s bid, referring to China’s ongoing human rights abuses and claims the committee made last time around that awarding China the Games would improve human rights in the Asian nation.

Awarding China again, rights groups like Free Tibet say, would in effect be supporting China’s human rights abuses.

“Giving the Games to Beijing again when we know it won’t alter their policies is sending the message to China that their human rights abuses are no obstacle to prestige on the world stage,” Alistair Currie, Campaigns and Media Manager at Free Tibet, told The Speaker.

Read more: Repression in China has increased – Freedom House Report

Alistair Currie
Alistair Currie

“The human rights situation in China and Tibet is getting worse not better — within the last week China has been jailing Chinese human rights lawyers in large numbers, for instance.

“Unlike in 2001, when China was an unknown quantity when it came to the Olympics, we now know how it responds to being awarded them. The IOC had hopes that the award may improve human rights in China. In reality, it did no such thing. Continued repression in China culminated in the brutal suppression of the March 2008 Uprising in Tibet, just a few months before the Games.

Read more: Sentencing of Christians in China increases 10,000% in less than a decade, rights group reports

“China is far more confident on the world stage than it was 14 years ago but is on a backwards path when it comes to respect for human and civil rights. Now couldn’t be a worse time for giving China a gift like the Olympics Games.”

“Unlike in 2001, when China was an unknown quantity when it came to the Olympics, we now know how it responds to being awarded them.”

Currie elaborated on a focal area of ongoing human rights abuses in China, Tibet:

“In Tibet now, Tibetans face more intensive surveillance than ever before and China will use any indication of Tibetan pride and resistance to Beijing’s policies as a pretext for repression — including arbitrary detention and punitive sentences. Tibetans can be imprisoned for simply singing a song or peacefully protesting to protect their environment. Entire communities can be punished for the acts of one person and China doesn’t hesitate to use force — just last week, they fired upon a demonstration, leading to 25 people being admitted to hospital. China’s grip on Tibet is tightening. What we know for sure is that Tibetans will continue to resist China’s rule — and that means things could be worse by 2022.”

In addition to an online petition that has reached almost 10,000 signatures, Free Tibet recently joined 174 other rights groups and communicated with the Olympic Committee to question the propriety of awarding China another Olympics. Currie referred to the return letter from the IOC, in which the Olympic board stated, “Choosing the host city of the Olympic Games does not mean that the IOC necessarily agrees with the political and/or the legal system in the host country.”

“We must acknowledge that we have neither the mandate nor the capability to change the laws or the political system of a sovereign country,” the letter continued. “The IOC is neither a world government, nor a superior world parliament.”

However, Currie noted recent changes in Olympic policy following the Sochi Games in Russia last year. He also commented on a distinction he saw between the two 2022 candidates — both of which raise questions about human rights abuses and Olympic hosting rights.

“Now couldn’t be a worse time for giving China a gift like the Olympics Games.”

“Interestingly, they do say they should be aware of the “political implications” of their choice but the remainder of the letter suggests that that level of “consideration” is very limited. After Sochi, the IOC introduced measures in the Host City contracts to ensure no discrimination or, for instance, environmental destruction accompanies the Games themselves. These requirements don’t apply to the political system overall, however.

“The IOC is trying to insulate itself from any criticism or fallout from giving the Games to countries with political and human rights problems and there’s no surprise in that when both candidates for 2022 – Beijing and Almaty – fall into that category. One distinction with Almaty, however, is that it’s a small country and it remains possible that the award of the Games may bring about some positive change. That may not be the case of course, but in Beijing’s case, we know it won’t bring about positive change.”