MPs urge British Olympians to boycott 2022 Beijing Winter Games
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey and Labour MP Chris Bryant urge officials and athletes to protest against oppression of Uighur communitiesA display at the exhibition centre for the 2022 winter Games in Beijing. There have been reports of systematic rape and torture of Uighurs in Xinjiang province. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images James Tapper
Senior political figures have called for British athletes to boycott next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing in response to widespread human rights abuses in China.
Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Labour MP Chris Bryant, a member of the foreign affairs select committee and a former junior foreign minister, said the government and the British Olympic Association should act.
“The evidence that a genocide is now occurring in western China is so clear that the UK and the whole world must now stand up to Beijing and use every available tool to stop it,” Davey said.
The BBC reported last week that ethnic Uighur women and other Muslims in the western province of Xinjiang were being systematically raped and tortured. The former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said before leaving office last month that China was committing ongoing genocide against the Uighurs, a statement backed by the Biden administration.
The UN Genocide Convention lists removing children, preventing births, killing members of a group, seriously harming them or putting them in conditions calculated to destroy them as evidence of genocide.
Bryant said: “All five categories of genocide behaviour, according to the Genocide Convention, are already in play in Xinjiang province. So I think it’s just extraordinary that the British government seems to have no backbone about it.
“I just can’t see why anybody would want to go to the Winter Olympics in Beijing. And I think the British Olympic Association should be calling for the Winter Olympics to move, and if it doesn’t move, then we should be boycotting it.”
Davey said the UK had allowed its sports stars to be used for propaganda in the past, such as when the England football team was instructed to give a Nazi salute in 1935.
“No doubt we will hear teams, sponsors and governing bodies say the Olympics and Paralympics should be separate from politics and that they are just concentrating on sport. But in the face of genocide, that just isn’t good enough,” Davey said.
“The 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games will be used as a propaganda tool for a regime committing genocide. Team GB, ParalympicsGB and the government have a moral responsibility to consider if sending a team to these Games is really the right thing to do.”
He said that unless the Chinese government ordered the closure of detention camps in Xinjiang, ended Uighur forced labour and ethnic cleansing, stopped sterilising Uighur women and stopped the torture and rape of Uighurs, then Team GB, ParalympicsGB and ministers should announce a boycott. “Our brightest and best athletes should not be forced to be part of a propaganda exercise for the Chinese Communist party while it tries to wipe the Uighur people off the face of the planet.”
Last week, a group of 180 human rights groups called for a boycott, saying that the International Olympic Committee’s hope that awarding China the Games in 2015 would spark progress had been wrong.
China’s human rights record worsened after the 2008 Beijing summer Games because the country’s leadership became “emboldened”, the group said.
Fewer athletes participate in the Winter Olympics than during the summer Games and a greater proportion come from richer countries.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, told the foreign affairs select committee last October that a UK boycott of the Games was possible. The former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has also called for a boycott.
China has denied there are any abuses in Xinjiang.
Sir Hugh Robertson, the chairman of the British Olympic Committee, said last year that Olympic boycotts did not work and only harmed the athletes who could not take part. British runners Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett won gold medals at the 1980 Moscow Games after defying a government boycott.