Rep. John Curtis, Congress puts pressure on Beijing Olympic sponsors to recognize human rights violations

24 House member call out Delta, Coca-Cola, others for ‘hypocrisy’ for weighing in on Georgia voting rights issues but not on the treatment of Uyghurs in China.

(Mark Schiefelbein | AP) A woman wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus poses for a selfie with a display of the Winter Paralympic mascot Shuey Rhon Rhon, left, and Winter Olympic mascot Bing Dwen Dwen near the Olympic Green in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022.

The United States has already enacted a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in China in protest of that country’s human rights violations. Now some members of Congress are calling upon corporate sponsors of the Games to publicly recognize those atrocities.

Two dozen House members drafted and signed a letter to Olympic sponsors last week requesting they respond with their reasoning for sponsoring the Beijing Olympics and consider pulling their support for the Games, which begin Feb. 3.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, the co-chair of the Congressional Olympic and Paralympic Caucus, spoke about the issue with Tonya Mosley on NPR’s Here & Now on Thursday.

“We cannot give them a free pass,” Curtis said of China. “This is the perfect opportunity to highlight what’s happening there, to seek improvements and do everything we can to ensure that human rights are improved around the world.”

The U.S. State Department determined that China has been committing genocide on its Uyghur population, especially in the Xinjiang region. China also has tightened its grip in Hong Kong and Tibet. According to findings from Canada’s My Citizen Lab, the My2022 app that all Games participants — from journalists to athletes to workers — must interact with contains a censorship keyword list. The list, though currently disabled, includes the terms Xinjiang and Tibet, among others.

Still, corporate sponsors have been reticent to pull back on their sponsorship and risk being cut off from one of their biggest markets. In a Wall Street Journal article, many cited multi-year contracts and wanting to support the athletes, not the politics, for remaining involved.

But in their letter, the lawmakers point out that many of the companies, specifically Delta and Coca-Cola, embroiled themselves in politics last year when they weighed in on voting rights issues in Georgia. Both Delta and Coca-cola are headquartered in Atlanta.

“The hypocrisy just seems to shout from the rooftops,” Curtis said.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, makes remarks at a swearing-in ceremony at Alta High School in Sandy, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

Curtis said he’s not ready to go as far as to demand U.S. athletes not compete in Beijing. That move, which Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah called for in December, would profoundly affect the roughly 60 to 70 athletes from Utah who expect to compete in the Games as well as the approximately 175 others who hail from other parts of the country.

“I think we missed the window to ask them to stay home,” Curtis said. “What I mean by that is If we had four years ago said, ‘Look, you need to boycott these or the country needs to boycott these,’ that would have been a very different story. But to let these athletes go forward and train and prepare for these Olympics and then say last-minute, ‘Oh, let’s not do this,’ I think would be a mistake.”

The letter requests that sponsors reply to legislators’ questions by Jan. 27.