Op-Ed: Sen. Rick Scott
September 11, 2020
Fifty-six years ago, the International Olympic Committee took a historic step: It stood up to the government of South Africa and its racist apartheid system and banned the country from participation in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.
The country was similarly excluded from the 1968 Mexico City Games, and in 1970, the IOC indefinitely expelled South Africa from Olympic competition. Almost every other international sporting league, including FIFA, the International Cricket Council and the International Amateur Athletic Federation, echoed the ban until the South African government ended the apartheid system.
The IOC should take a similar step now, and move the 2022 Games out of Beijing. In a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach last October, I outlined the Chinese Communist Party’s numerous human rights abuses, including attacks on free speech, detention of international journalists, the imprisonment of more than 1 million Uighurs (an ethnic and religious minority in Western China), the sinister surveillance of citizens and tyrannical actions against citizens of Hong Kong. Bach responded to me by saying the IOC must remain “politically neutral.” Without referring specifically to Beijing, he doubled down on his stance against boycotts in a speech in July, criticizing the “misuse of sport for political purposes.”
Since I first wrote to the IOC, the human rights situation in China has only worsened. The Communist Party and Chinese President Xi Jinping have effectively eliminated the autonomy of Hong Kong, stripping the basic rights of free speech and free assembly from more than 7 million citizens. New reports confirm the Xi regime’s forced abortions and forced sterilizations of Uighur women.
China was selected to host the 2022 Games in 2015, three years after Xi came to power. In addition to the genocide of Uighurs and relentless crackdown on Hong Kong, Xi has led a campaign against anyone he feels threatens his power. Hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists have been jailed, including Liu Xiaobo, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who died in state custody after criticizing Beijing’s atrocities. And foreign journalists have been expelled for writing articles Xi found offensive.
The IOC charter states, “The goal of Olympism is 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.” And the “host city contract” the IOC adopted in 2017 requires that hosts “protect and respect human rights.” Unfortunately (and not so coincidentally), the contract does not take effect until after the 2022 Beijing Games.
The South Africa ban is not the only time the IOC has stood up for its values and for human rights around the globe. Germany and Japan were banned from participating in the 1948 Games for their roles in World War II. Afghanistan was banned in 2000 because of the Taliban’s discrimination against women. And South Korea was pressured by the IOC to enact democratic reforms before it hosted the 1988 Games.
The IOC has a chance to once again do the right thing by moving the 2022 Games out of Beijing. The actions of Xi and the Chinese Communist Party fly in the face of Olympic values and universally held ideals of basic human dignity.
For the hundreds of millions who will watch the Games, we must again lead by example and refuse to give Communist China — a country that is running concentration camps and eliminating human rights for its people — a platform to whitewash its crimes.
Rick Scott, a Republican, is a U.S. senator for Florida.