It should be a rule of thumb that the Olympic Games shouldn’t be held in countries that operate concentration camps. If this strikes you as an unreasonable demand, you aren’t suited to serve on the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC has doggedly defended Beijing as the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics even as the Chinese Communist Party pursues its campaign of unrelenting barbarity against the Uyghurs. The Biden administration just announced a so-called diplomatic boycott of the games, a gesture of disapproval that won’t dent the propaganda coup the IOC is handing the most dangerous regime in the world.
The IOC is the World Health Organization of sports. When China disappeared female tennis star Peng Shuai for the offense of making an accusation of sexual assault against a former high government official, the IOC happily assisted in the regime’s crisis PR, lest the shocking incident derail the games. The president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, had a video call with Peng where she said all was well and Bach pretended to take her assurances at face value.
Of course, Peng wasn’t free to speak her mind, but part of Bach’s job now is to look the other way at China’s blatant abuses. China has the great fortune to deal with international organizations — except the Women’s Tennis Association, which is suspending tournaments in China — that lack all self-respect.
The IOC is following in the well-trod footsteps of corporations, financiers and sports leagues that start out wanting to do business with China and end up complicit in the regime’s crimes by staying silent or explaining them away.
The difference is that the IOC claims to be acting in support of high ideals. Bach likes to quote the Olympic charter that says Olympism exists “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
Placing sport at the service of China does the opposite on all counts.
China’s autocrat, Xi Jinping, has been open about the political importance of the Olympics, “Hosting an excellent 2022 Games is a major task of the Party and the country, and it is a solemn commitment to the international community.”
Here, the interests of the CCP and the IOC — as well as the corporate sponsors of the games — coincide. The last time China hosted the Olympics, the Summer Games in 2008, it used the opening ceremony to stage a gigantic and memorable regime-enhancing spectacle. Beijing promised reforms to get awarded the games and then, true to form, engaged in yet more heavy-handed repression.
If the 2008 Beijing Games were ill-advised, next year’s Winter Olympics are a complete travesty. The atrocities in Xinjiang province are a matter of public record and the quashing of Hong Kong proceeds apace. No one who crosses the regime is safe from imprisonment or worse.
China openly menaces Taiwan with an invasion. Indeed, China could conceivably be in a shooting war with the United States within a year or two of using the presence of our athletes, among others, to enhance the rule of its dictator-for-life.
Bach insists that the IOC must always be politically neutral. As Michael Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute points out, though, the IOC banned apartheid-era South Africa from the games. There is no such thing as neutrality when dealing with an all-encompassing police state for which politics is a life-or-death matter.
The games aren’t being hosted by Switzerland or Norway — nice, law-abiding countries with good ski slopes — but a revanchist power that tramples on human dignity and is a clear and present danger to international peace.
The IOC could have taken an off-ramp from these games at any point. Instead, its attitude is going to be, “Enjoy the snowboarding, never mind the concentration camps.”
Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.