Why were the Olympics allowed to be in China?

Why were the Olympics allowed to be in China?

Owen Foster

 Dinigeer Yilamujiang holds the Olympic torch, accompanied by her fellow torchbearer Zhao Jiawen. They stand triumphantly above the Olympic cauldron in Beijing, China, preparing to light the signifier of the beginning of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.  

   This should be one of the greatest moments of Yilamujiang’s athletic career. A crowning point of national pride and unity. However, being of the Muslim Uyghur minority in China, her lighting of the Olympic Cauldron isn’t for her merits, but a publicity stunt. 

   To Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the rest of China, the unification of ethnicities and religions for the Olympic Games sends a message to the rest of the world that nothing is happening to Uyghurs in China. Nothing is wrong. 

   This is a lie. 

   China has faced countless allegations of human rights abuse and genocide concerning the Uyghur people of the Xinjiang Province in Western China. Yet, they were still allowed to host the Winter Games this year. How is that okay, or even allowed? 

   Is ethnic cleansing and genocide not a reasonable argument against a country hosting the Olympics? For the International Olympic Committee (IOC), apparently not. 

   Horror stories and reports have come out of the Xinjiang Province and from Human Right Groups that the Uyghur minority in the province has been facing ethnic cleansing practices and serious discrimination from the Chinese Government. Satellite imagery has even shown what looks to be concentration camps, housing thousands of Uyghur people. 

   The so-called “vocational training centers”, as the Chinese government calls them, are supposedly helping the Uyghur community with jobs and learning new skills. The centers teach Mandarin, and Chinese Laws, but also, according to China, try and stop the influence of extremist values from developing. Truly a blatant linking of extremist values with the Islamic religion, China knows exactly what they’re doing. 

   The Chinese government is actively promoting and supporting religious intolerance, and the camps are still growing in size with the increasing surveillance presence in Xinjiang. People are arrested for practicing any Muslim traditions or ideas if caught by cameras. There have been multiple instances where large numbers of people were sent to the internment camps in mass after the new institution of algorithms that specifies “suspicious people” online. 

   In addition to disappearances, and reports of extrajudicial killings, China also enforces sterilization practices on Uyghur and Muslim women in the region, whether that be in the cities, or within the camps. By doing this, China hopes to erase the next generations of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. This is not even mentioning imprisonment for having too many children as a Muslim or naming children names like Mohammed. 

   The Olympic Games are specifically about international unity and cooperation. Bringing together people from around the world: different ethnicities, different religions, all together as one. However, China, hoping to show that they would never do something as atrocious as genocide, deny the camps’ existence, and create lies about what is happening to the Uyghur people.

  This is unacceptable and shows the IOC’s true motives: Monetary gain. 

  China’s main proposal for hosting the games was how much money the games could bring in for the IOC. Especially considering the money brought in when China hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, bringing in roughly 3.8 billion dollars, making it one of the most successful games in recent years. In comparison to other choices, like Almaty, Kazakhstan, it’s no surprise that Beijing was seen as more profitable for the IOC. 

  However, morally, this begs the question: is money more important than human rights abuses? 

   For the IOC, sadly, yes. They can look past sterilization and internment camps, active genocide, and complete crushing of vibrant culture, all as long as the dollar signs continue to flow to their bank accounts. 

   Ironically, Beijing fell way short of China’s lofty financial goals. The games drew the lowest viewership in the US ever, a whopping 8.4 million average viewer drop from Pyeongchang in 2018. Also, large crowds were not permitted due to harsh Covid-19 protocols, with many tourists, athletes’ families, and friends that come with the games not going.  

   Moving forward, as one of the more vocal and powerful countries that compete in the Olympic Games, the US must step in. The Olympic Games should not be a publicity stunt, or a demonstration of a fake reality. The games should be about athletes competing for their country, achieving lifelong goals, and competing on the highest stage there is. 

   To preserve the credibility of the games, and keep the event about the athletes and international unity, the IOC and countries around the world must recognize that money is not the end-all. Ignorance of human rights abuses and genocide for capital gain should never be tolerated. 

   The Uyghurs deserve better. The athletes deserve better. The world deserves better.