Celebrating Inhumanity – Lessons from the Winter Olympics in China

The end of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China is not only a time to recognise the accomplishments of athletes from around the world and the pageantry of the Games. It is also an occasion to reflect upon the values of international sporting events and to learn lessons. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says that the Olympic Games “celebrate humanity”. It pledges to be guided by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ILO Conventions, and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 

“Although those international instruments cover hundreds of rights, a list of those protected and respected in China would be very short. The 2022 Winter Games were, in fact, a celebration of inhumanity.” denounced BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson, commenting on the high costs of the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022.

“One of the arguments for awarding the 2008 Summer Olympics to China was that it would improve respect for human rights. When the controversial 2015 decision was made to award the 2022 Winter Olympics to China, nobody made that argument. Since 2015, the situation has gotten even worse.” Yuson explained. 

Worker rights have further eroded throughout the country and free trade unions have been systematically destroyed in Hong Kong along with other civil society organisations and independent media.

Attacks have accelerated against LGBT+ persons. Athletes have been monitored and harassed. People are imprisoned for what they say and attacks on journalists are common. State-of-the-art mass surveillance has developed and been put in place. Uyghurs have been subjected to “re-education”, forced sterilization and slave labour. Attacks on other ethnic and religious minorities are taking place daily, including in Tibet. 

In Asia and globally, China is supporting dictators and anti-democratic elements in democracies. It also uses its economic power and other means to promote its system as an alternative to democracy. 

The International Olympic Committee

“The 2022 Winter Olympics are over. However, if the shock waves linger in the world of global sports, but especially in the IOC and its collaborating organisations, reflection and discussion must take place.” exhorted Dietmar Schäfers, BWI Deputy President. 

“The IOC has the responsibility, not the option, to respect human rights. It has considerably improved its human rights policies and commissioned a far-reaching and thorough expert report, moves that were welcomed by BWI. But do IOC’s commitments to human rights mean something or are they just words?” Schäfers concluded.

In the wake of the 2022 Winter Olympics, it would seem to be fitting to accelerate its human rights policy’s implementation, rather than relying on the assurances of the country on the protection and respect for human rights. 

BWI deplores the violation of and contempt for fundamental human rights standards by the Government of China which tarnished the reputation of the Olympics.  It urges the IOC to engage in a serious and rigorous process of due diligence, including with respect to awarding the hosting of the Olympics. Establishment of effective mechanisms for consultation, including with trade unions, and application of the policy should be based on the March 2020 report of the Independent Experts.

BWI is willing to join with the IOC to strengthen its respect of human rights standards. It also encourages the IOC to work closely with the Centre for Sports and Human Rights, where BWI and other Global Unions have joined with employers and civil society organisations to help realise the noble goals and visions of global sporting events.