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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ryan Jake Applegarth of Ponoka, 28, is scheduled to appear at Ponoka Provincial Court on March 12, 2021. (File photo)
Discussions about justice continue as Ponoka murder victims’ court cases proceed

Responses to comments Ponoka Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley made to town council Feb. 9

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Annual spending on debt interest is closing in on $3 billion

Alberta reported an additional 399 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, on 9,217 tests, for a test positivity rate of 4.3 per cent. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer down to 562 active COVID-19 cases

8 new COVID-19 deaths, 399 additional COVID-19 cases

(File photo/Lauren Collins Vana)
Ponoka cat owners have until July 1, 2021 to purchase licenses

Town council passed new Animal Control Bylaw Feb. 23

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

A ” Justice for Jeff” T-shirt. (Photo submitted)
Rally to be held outside courthouse for slain Ponoka man

At what may be the last opportunity for Jeffery Kraft of Ponoka… Continue reading

A helicopter flies past a mountain near McBride, B.C., on Saturday January 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Avalanche warning for backcountry users in North and South Rockies

Avalanche Canada is urging backcountry users to always check their regional avalanche forecasts

Supporters pray outside court in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, as a trial date was set for Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church. He is charged with holding Sunday services in violation of Alberta’s COVID-19 rules and with breaking conditions of his bail release. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Trial date for jailed Alberta pastor charged with breaking COVID-19 health orders

The court says it will reconvene with lawyers on March 5 for a case management plan by teleconference

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

Emily Keeping of Wetaskiwin, Alta., was last seen at 4:20 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin. Supplied/ Wetaskiwin RCMP.
UPDATE: Wetaskiwin RCMP seek assistance in locating missing 11-year-old

Emily Keeping was last seen on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin.

Sylvan Lake's Winter Village lured many visitors to the town this winter. The town has launched a new contest to attract a new business.
(Black Press file photo)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

Alberta premier Jason Kenney, right and Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, provide details about Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act., in Edmonton Alta, on Wednesday June 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Minister Doug Schweitzer talks on Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit

Provincial government rolling out new benefit this April to better help small businesses.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Most Read