From Berlin 1936 to Beijing 2022 – passing the baton for ‘the Genocide Games’

Protestors against discrimination of Uyghurs
Protestors against discrimination of Uyghurs

In less than a month, on 4 February, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games will kick off. Such an occasion is usually a cause for celebration and jubilation for the host country, but it  is also only a month since an Independent  Tribunal found the People’s Republic of China (PRC) guilty, beyond reasonable doubt, of committing the crimes of torture, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Uyghur people. China will try to use the Games to showcase its achievements as a nation and cover up the existence of the genocide and its failure to protect fundamental principles of human dignity and justice.

It did not take the tribunal’s ruling to learn about the extent of persecution the PRC is committing against the Uyghurs and other Turkic groups in the Uyghur region of China. The judgment comes after increasing criticism of the PRC’s actions from civil society, the media, and politicians. Recently, the parliamentarians in the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK have persuaded their governments to announce a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Games. But for the Uyghurs, is this too little too late?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is responsible for awarding the 2022 Winter Olympic Games to China. That award follows a similar award for the 2008 Summer Games, despite China’s  years of repression and persecution of Tibetans. In the years since the 2008 Games, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has intensified its repression of pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong and of groups it deems a “threat” to the power of the CCP in China, by holding close to three million Uyghurs in internment and concentration camps, where they face torture, sexual abuse, forced sterilisation, forced labour and child separation. Yet it continued to be rewarded, not condemned, by the IOC and the business sector, with many international corporations (including Coca-Cola, Airbnb, Samsung, Toyota, and Visa) who are sponsoring next month’s games.

This reluctance by the IOC to criticise China for its actions is both shameful and disappointing, but not surprising, as this is not the first time the IOC reached a similar decision. In 1931, when the IOC awarded it the privilege of hosting the Olympic Games, Germany was a republic. But soon after, when the Nazis seized power and began interning Jews two years later (and at the same time also introducing the Nuremberg Race Laws), the IOC refused to openly criticise the treatment of the Jews  for fear of irritating the host nation[1].

In the case of the 2022 Beijing games, thanks for the advancement of media and technology and vast amounts of evidence and testimonies collected, the CCP’s acts of repression and persecution were known and visible, yet IOC officials have chosen to hide behind claims of ignorance, with IOC member Dick Pound telling a German broadcaster that, despite all the evidence available about the treatment of Uyghurs, he ‘doesn’t know enough of the facts’[2].

The Olympic Charter emphasises “promoting respect for universal fundamental ethical principles” and the “preservation of human dignity.” Holding these Games in China is inconsistent with these values, especially as many main sponsors, are directly complicit in the genocide through  use of Uyghur slave labour  or their promotion of surveillance systems used to arrest and intern Uyghurs. Even official Beijing 2022 merchandise is tainted, so deeply entrenched is Uyghur forced labour in Chinese manufacturing.

History is repeating itself. Today, the International Olympic Committee and global corporations are equally reluctant to criticise the 2022 host nation and withdraw their sponsorship, while the Chinese government sees this as an opportunity to project soft power to the world. We must not ignore the fact that these games are taking place in a country where there is growing evidence of a genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups. We must not allow the Chinese government to use these games to whitewash its attempt to destroy a people. The Beijing 2022Olympics stakeholders must uphold human rights standards, otherwise these Olympics will for ever be known as the ‘Genocide Games’.

With the Games taking place in less than three weeks, there is still a final opportunity to speak up and take action to raise our concerns  with our MPs, business leader and wider society to stop China from using the Games  as an endorsement for genocidal repression. René Cassin, the Jewish voice for human rights, together with Uyghur and other civil society organisations has set up a series of actions and opportunities, like showing support and solidarity with Uyghur, Tibetan and Hong Kong activists and communities by attending an alternative opening ceremony to the Games on Thursday 3 February  at 6.30 p.m. at Piccadilly Circus or writing to your local MP raising your concerns over Airbnb’s and/or Coca Cola’s sponsorship of the Games.

We need to act now as history must not be allowed to repeat itself.

[1] Boycott questions over Beijing Winter Olympics raise eerie echoes of 1936 | Winter Olympics | The Guardian

[2] Interview with IOC-member Richard Pound about the Winter Olympics (

About the Author
Mia Hasenson-Gross is human rights charity René Cassin’s Director
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