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White House Won’t Weigh In on Olympics as Pressure to Boycott Grows

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday the administration of President Joe Biden has made no final decision on boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over China’s human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang.

“There hasn’t been a final decision made on that. And, of course, we would look for guidance from the U.S. Olympic Committee,” Psaki said when asked about calls to boycott the Olympics from some Republicans.

Reuters saw this as a minor shift in position from February 3, when Psaki said the Biden administration was not “currently talking about changing our posture or our plans as it relates to the Beijing Olympics.”

Uyghur rights groups are asking corporate sponsors to boycott what they refer to as the “Genocide Games,” but so far their efforts have secured no major commitments to withdraw support from the Beijing Olympics. Hopeful activists believe political pressure will mount in the coming months, prompting sponsors to consider the bad publicity they could attract by overlooking China’s human rights abuses. 

“Only a boycott will send a clear message to China. And any form of compromises will be used by Beijing to advance its political agenda. We call for a tougher stance on Beijing’s hosting of the winter games because a softened gesture exhibits a disguised support for an authoritarian regime,” World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit said on Tuesday.

A coalition of 180 human rights groups has called for a boycott of the Beijing Games, including activists for Tibet and Hong Kong. Boycott advocates frequently make the comparison to Nazi Germany reaping propaganda benefits from the 1936 Olympics, while critics of the boycott strategy are more likely to cite the minimal effectiveness of the U.S. boycotting the 1980 Summer Games in the Soviet Union. 

“Our sufferings were completely dismissed by the IOC [International Olympic Committee]. It’s now up to the governments to act on it, and show some decent humanity by boycotting a genocide Olympics,” Uyghur human rights advocate Zumretay Arkin said when the IOC rejected boycott demands in early February.

Fox News on Thursday quoted a spokesperson for the U.S. Olympic Committee arguing that a boycott of the Beijing Olympics would be “ineffective.”

“We believe the more effective course of action is for the governments of the world and China to engage directly on human rights and geopolitical issues,” the spokesperson said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected calls to boycott the Beijing Olympics on Wednesday, with support from the British Olympic Association (BOA).

“We do not believe that boycotting the Olympic Winter Games is the right solution and feel that the athletes who have trained all their lives for this moment should be able to go and compete and represent their country. As we saw in Moscow in 1980, sporting boycotts don’t work. They penalise the athletes whilst leaving the greater political problems unaddressed or unsolved,” the BOA said.

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the British Liberal Democrat Party, advocated a boycott on the grounds that Olympic rules forbid athletes from using Olympic venues for political protest, so Olympic competitors from free nations would be effectively “gagged from speaking out against the Chinese regime,” giving the CCP a free hand to take political advantage of the event.

“The teams you send are the nation’s best athletes and under no circumstances should we allow them to be used as propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party given what we know is occurring in Xinjiang,” Davey said in a letter to the BOA.

“We’re not normally in favor of sporting boycotts in this country and that’s been the long-standing position of this government,” Johnson countered, insisting the Chinese would somehow be “held to account” at the United Nations with help from “the U.S. and friends and partners around the world.”

“Politicization of sports goes against the spirit of the Olympic Charter and harms the interests of athletes of all countries. The whole international community, including the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, should oppose the wrong moves to boycott the Olympic Games or change the host. Rumors stop with the wise. Facts will prevail over lies. We are confident that with the concerted efforts of all parties, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games will be an extraordinary event,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Friday.

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