Are Canada’s Olympians being used as political fodder at China Games, asks St. Catharines’ university professors

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Published December 10, 2021 at 12:36 pm

Graphic: Beijing 2022 Facebook page

With Canada taking part in a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, has the federal government left its own Olympic athletes, who are still participating, muzzled in terms of what they can or cannot say to the media?

To be certain, Canada recently joined the United States, the U.K. and Australia in a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games as a stand against China’s horrific human rights violations. That simply means there will be no government officials or diplomats attending the games.

But where does that leave the participating Canadian athletes, wonders Brock University’s Assistant Professor of Sport Management Michele Donnelly.

“Athletes need to be guaranteed that they will be safe and free to promote human rights – both in China and globally – at the Games,” Donnelly told the campus’ Brock News.

“This includes in interviews with media outlets, social media posts and through other forms of display. Notably, the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 50 already severely limits what athletes can say, do or wear in official Olympic spaces; the Chinese government is not the only concern in terms of restrictions on athletes and other Olympic participants.”

Another of the university’s Assistant Professors of Sport Management Taylor McKee says the boycott puts our athletes in an unenviable position.

“The notion of a diplomatic boycott that includes sending Canadian athletes supposes the erroneous assumption that athletes hold no political value and that the Games themselves, and by extension the athletes that compete in them, are free of the influence of politics,” McKee says.

“Questions about boycotts render them unable to voice concerns about the Chinese state without appearing hypocritical.”

And perhaps Canada has no real footing claiming a holier-than-thou stand on human rights against China, suggests Assistant Professor of Political Science Liam Midzain-Gobin.

“Canada’s own position is a difficult one,” he says. “In February, we saw a vote in Parliament to recognize a genocide by China against Uighur Muslims and call for a change in venue for the Games.”

“Part of that was calls for Canada to step in as host, which overlooked that two separate national inquiries (the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people), along with many international bodies, found Canada to have committed, and be committing, genocide against Indigenous Peoples here.”

In other words, is Canada any better at human rights than the country they are denouncing with their diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games? asked Midzain-Gobin. “Overlooking that and calling for us to host shows a lack of awareness of the need to address the systemic causes of that genocide and, ultimately, helps keep that same system intact.”

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