China’s government warned Washington on Wednesday not to boycott next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing after the Biden administration said it was talking with allies about a joint approach to complaints of human rights abuses.
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson rejected accusations of abuses against ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region. He warned of an unspecified 'robust Chinese response' to a potential Olympics boycott.
“The politicisation of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries,” said the spokesperson, Zhao Lijian. “The international community including the US Olympic Committee will not accept it.”
Human rights groups are protesting China’s hosting of the games, due to start in February 2022. They have urged a boycott or other measures to call attention to accusations of Chinese abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetans and residents of Hong Kong.
The US State Department suggested an Olympic boycott was among the possibilities but a senior official said later a boycott has not been discussed. The International Olympic Committee and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee have said in the past they oppose boycotts.
That opposition was reiterated by Susanne Lyons, chair of the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee board of directors, at a media summit Wednesday.
“We at the USOPC oppose athlete boycotts because they’ve been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues in the past,” Lyons said. The committee doesn’t wish to 'minimise the serious human rights issues that are happening in China', but believes diplomats and trade and other government officials are better equipped to address such concerns and 'young athletes should be used as political pawns in these issues', Lyons said.
Boycotts also put 'unfair pressure' on corporate sponsors who provide the bulk of financial support for athletes and athletic programmes over the long term, not just for specific events, she said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the White House is not looking at a boycott of the 2022 Olympics.
“We have not discussed, and are not discussing, any joint boycott with allies and partners,” she said.
When asked if the US government would discourage Americans from travelling to China, Psaki said the Biden administration hopes that by the time of the event, 'we are at a point where enough people across the country, and hopefully around the world have been vaccinated' against COVID-19.