People walk past the Water Cube, which will be known as the Ice Cube when it hosts events for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Canada will not boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing despite calls from human rights organizations to do so. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Schiefelbein

People walk past the Water Cube, which will be known as the Ice Cube when it hosts events for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Canada will not boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing despite calls from human rights organizations to do so. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Schiefelbein

Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic teams won’t boycott Beijing’s Games

Some Canadians have written on social media and comment forums that their country should boycott Beijing

Canada will not boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing despite calls from human rights organizations to do so.

A coalition of 180 rights groups want a boycott of Beijing’s Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games because of reported human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in China.

The games open in a year, Feb. 4, 2022, followed a month later by the Paralympic Games.

Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive officer David Shoemaker and Paralympic counterpart Karen O’Neill spoke to The Canadian Press on the ineffectiveness of a boycott, as well as the importance of Canada’s participation in Beijing.

Canada joined a U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The Soviets not only remained in Afghanistan for another eight years, but led a revenge boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

“We only really have two choices here,” Shoemaker told The Canadian Press. “The choices are to pull out, to barricade ourselves, to divide, to further polarize and say out of protest we’re not going to go, or to engage and be part of a conversation, to amplify voices, to speak our mind on things that are important to us and to participate in the Games.

“When faced with those choices and the lessons learned from Moscow in 1980 and L.A. in 1984, the choice is clear.”

The rights coalition representing Tibetans, Uighurs, Inner Mongolians, residents of Hong Kong and others has issued an open letter to governments calling for a boycott of the Olympics “to ensure they are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent.”

Some Canadians have written on social media and comment forums that their country should boycott Beijing because of the continued imprisonment of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Their arrest was seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 on a United States warrant. The U.S. wants her extradited to face fraud charges.

Shoemaker calls these issues “deeply concerning”, but believes the majority of Canadians want their athletes competing in Beijing.

He cites the 91 per cent of the country’s population that watched the 2016 Summer Games in Rio on television, and the 75 per cent who viewed the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, despite the 13-hour time difference.

“Having said that, we don’t want to minimize what’s happening in the host country,” Shoemaker said.

“We have serious concerns in particular about what’s happening to Muslim Uyghurs in Western China, and have discussed that with the Canadian government and the Canadian ambassador to China.

“They’ve assured us that it’s their top priority and being addressed on a government-to-government basis.

“We therefore see our role in this to deliver our teams to Games and be part of a conversation to amplify stories and to inspire and unite.”

Canada’s participation in the Paralympic Games raises the profile of and changes perceptions about the disabled in the host country, in Canada and around the world, O’Neill added.

“Our athletes are capable of great things and the impact on the overall message of access and inclusion in the local community, that’s an additional overlay from the para side of things,” she said.

Sport as an agent of social change leaped to the forefront in North America in 2020.

Led by the Milwaukee Bucks not taking the floor for a playoff game, the NBA, NHL, WNBA and Major League Baseball cancelled games after the Aug. 28 police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Wisconsin.

Shoemaker, a former head of NBA China before joining the COC, said NBA players eventually returned to the court with social-justice messages on their jerseys, and either knelt or locked arms during anthems, because athletes felt they could bring about more change by playing than not.

Canadian athletes can similarly change more by participating than they can from the sidelines, Shoemaker said.

“Canadian Olympians and Paralympians are very socially conscious and they’re very aware of what’s going on in China,” he said.

“I’ve spoken with the athletes’ commission about that and we’ve begun to tackle similarly, what kind of programs within our control can we do to advance the very causes that we think are being challenged or are in peril in China right now.”

Shoemaker wasn’t yet CEO of the COC in 2014, but he pointed to the Canadian team’s campaign ahead of the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in the face of the country’s homophobic laws.

The COC loudly and continually heralded Canadian athletes across the country walking in Pride parades, which are illegal in Russia, the summer before the Sochi Games.

“I understand there were similarly some calls for boycott because of an anti-LGBTQ-plus set of laws and rules in Russia that were very hostile to Team Canada,” Shoemaker said.

“We made the decision, a difficult one, to go, but to strengthen our resolve around those kinds of programs and messages here in Canada.

“We now have among the most inclusive programming with an LGBTQ-plus focus you could imagine, which is a direct result of Team Canada competing in Sochi and being part of a conversation.”

Canada’s Paralympians want to compete in Beijing, but will not do so with their heads in the sand, O’Neill said.

“The memory of how the boycott did not obtain the kind of results, and in fact many would argue the negative far eclipsed what was thought to be the goodness in the boycott, in my whole sport career, I don’t think I’ve ever heard such an open, transparent conversation in our community about appreciating what’s going on, and what can be done within their role and context of both leading up to and during the Games,” O’Neill said.

Former Olympic speedskater Susan Auch, who is now CEO of Canada’s national teams, doesn’t want Canadian athletes feeling the same devastation their 1980 counterparts did when told by their government they could not compete in to Moscow.

“I firmly believe nothing good comes from boycotts,” Auch said. “Politics and sport tend to come together, but they shouldn’t.

“From my perspective as a former athlete, I would say sport is a time where we need to put aside our differences and play the game.”

— With files from The Associated Press

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

ChinaOlympics

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Most Read