A moral imperative: We must lead a boycott of the Winter Games


With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, will the world repeat the Holocaust Olympics of 1936? There are haunting parallels between the Berlin Games and the Beijing Games that are scheduled to take place Feb. 4-20. The specter of genocide hangs over these Games, as happened in Germany. And as happened before, China is targeting a population of people because of their religion and race. Millions of Uyghurs and other Muslims have been kidnapped and placed in concentration camps in East Turkistan, which China calls Xinjiang. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has seized property, separated families and shaved people’s hair.  

Participation in the Berlin Games cast a pall over America, three years after Adolf Hitler began his campaign of terror. What happened in Germany is an eerie parallel to China’s genocide and vast oppression in Uyghurs’ homeland, and its strangling of Tibet, Hong Kong and Southern Mongolia. China even tracks its ethnic Muslim groups abroad, monitoring people such as myself. The CCP’s goal is world domination.

More than 3 billion viewers tuned in for the 2020 Summer Games. This time, the public should turn off their televisions and refuse to support corporations who continue to do business with China. The American position influences our allies, so if the U.S. decides to boycott, other countries likely will follow. If we attend, we will go down in history as associating with a country that committed genocide. Even Olympic apparel is complicit. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will not guarantee that no forced labor is involved with its supply chain.

The goal of the Olympics is “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world … without discrimination of any kind …which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” This is often called “the Olympic spirit.” How can we reconcile these values with the genocide that rages within the host country? The world must stop China’s atrocities, not celebrate there. The Games are an event to display our best athletic talent to the world and are the finest arena to show that we are proud Americans. But participation also reflects our values, and allowing China to continue what it is doing to Uyghurs without intervening undermines this mission.

There is a tradition of Olympic activism. America has boycotted the Olympics six times because of issues such as war and apartheid. The last full boycott occurred during the 1980 Moscow Games. Now, it is time to boycott again. The internment, mass sterilization, enslavement and extermination of Uyghurs is the greatest moral crucible of our modern time, tarnishing the Olympic spirit. 

Years of protest have led up to these Winter Olympics, and the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and some other countries have instituted diplomatic boycotts. But this is a bare minimum, symbolic rather than substantive. We will not prove our prowess by winning more medals than China; we will prove moral clarity by refusing to attend.

I watch China tear apart my life each day. My sister, Gulshan Abbas, a retired medical doctor, was abducted more than three years ago, in retaliation for my speaking out against genocide. Similarly, my husband’s parents, sisters and other relatives have not been heard from since 2017.   China tries to media-wash its crimes against humanity, but every government leader knows the truth. Reputable news organizations debunk China’s myths. At one time, we said we did not know the full extent of what was happening in Germany; with Uyghur genocide today, we have no such excuse. 

I commend U.S. athletes for the thousands of hours of training required to prepare for Olympic competitions. The Games represent their lifelong dream, and it would be difficult for them to give this up. But might not the lives of millions of people in concentration camps matter more? Each individual can help stop the perpetuation of these horrors by staging a boycott that could send a powerful message to shame China. America’s democratic light can amplify this human catastrophe. 

When future generations look back on our world today, will they learn that America acted with moral clarity? Our nation often repeats the rallying cry “Never again!” Yet, it’s happening again. We have a chance to correct history in the making. What will we decide?

Rushan Abbas is executive director of the Campaign for Uyghurs, which advocates for the human rights and democratic freedoms of Uyghurs and other Turkic people in East Turkistan (Xinjiang). Follow on Twitter @CUyghurs.

Tags 2022 Winter Olympics Campaign for Uyghurs China human rights abuses Genocide Rushan Abbas

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