The Beijing Olympics boycott debate isn’t going away

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Clouds hang over the next two Olympics

Next Thursday is exactly 100 days from the official opening of the Tokyo Olympics. But expect a more muted marking of the milestone this time as countries around the world experience another spike in COVID-19 cases and Olympic organizers try to deal with the extra challenges that presents.

Meanwhile, another cloud hangs over the Olympic “movement.” Calls to boycott the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing are not going away, and the heat on this simmering debate keeps getting turned up on a semi-regular basis.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department raised the temperature when he indicated that the Biden administration hasn’t ruled out supporting a boycott as a means of protesting China’s rights abuses. With the International Olympic Committee refusing to move the Beijing Games, which open in less than 10 months, human-rights activists are calling for national Olympic committees, athletes and sponsors to pull out in protest of China’s actions against Uighurs, Tibetans and residents of Hong Kong.

Many Republicans are on board with this, as criticizing China has become something of a pet project in that party. Recently, a few Republican Congressmen formally called for the IOC to move the Beijing Games or, failing that, for the U.S. to boycott. Opinion remains split, though, even within the party. Grandstanding Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, for whatever this is worth, tweeted recently that instead of boycotting “we should go to Beijing and kick their commie asses.”

However, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee remains fiercely opposed to boycotts. USOPC president Susanne Lyons argued today that “they’ve been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues,” and added that athletes should not be used as “political pawns.”

In Canada, there’s a similar divide between politicians and the national Olympic committee. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are among those who have called for the Beijing Games to be moved, and O’Toole also supports a boycott if China doesn’t change its “conduct.” There’s an extra layer to the debate in Canada with China’s ongoing detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on espionage charges — widely viewed as retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the request of the U.S. In February, the House of Commons voted unanimously (minus Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet, who abstained) in favour of a non-binding motion to declare that China is committing genocide against more than 1 million Uighurs in the Xinjiang region. The measure also called on the IOC to move the 2022 Olympics from Beijing.

But the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees, like the USOPC, are against boycotts and argue that they don’t work. They also don’t want the Beijing Games moved. COC CEO David Shoemaker said in February that it would be “next to impossible” to pull it off this close to the Games.

For now, at least, the federal government seems happy to defer to the COC. The Press Secretary for the Minister of Canadian Heritage issued a statement yesterday saying that, while the government remains “deeply concerned by horrific reports of human rights violations against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities” in China, it “must recognize the independence of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees with regards to Canada’s participation in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.” If other countries move toward boycotting, though, it’ll be interesting to see whether this hands-off approach continues. Read more about the Beijing boycott issue here.

Human-rights activists are calling for the 2022 Olympics to be moved out of China. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

Quickly…

Tiger Woods was speeding. The Los Angeles County Sheriff revealed today that Woods was doing 135-140 km/h — close to double the speed limit — when he crashed an SUV in February, causing serious leg injuries. The Sheriff, who had previously declined to reveal the cause of the accident because of unspecified “privacy issues,” said investigators determined that Woods’ excessive speed and loss of control of the vehicle were the only factors. Detectives did not seek blood samples, which can be screened for alcohol and/or drug levels. Woods is now back home in Florida recovering from multiple leg surgeries, and his golf future remains in doubt. If healthy, he’d be trying for his record-tying sixth Masters victory starting tomorrow. Read more about the results of the crash investigation here.

The Blue Jays’ top two execs are locked in for a while. Three months after signing president Mark Shapiro to a five-year extension, the team announced today that general manager Ross Atkins is getting his own. He was hired in December 2015, and Toronto has made the playoffs twice during his five-year tenure. Read more about Atkins and his extension here.

It’s a big day for Canada at the men’s curling world championship. With a 7-2 record, Brendan Bottcher’s rink is in a four-way tie for second place behind defending-champion Sweden (8-2). The top six in the 14-team round-robin advance to the playoffs, and Canada is going to have to work for its spot. Three of its remaining four games are against teams currently in the top five, starting with back-to-back tough matchups today. Canada faces Russia (7-2) at 4 p.m. ET, then Sweden at 9 p.m. ET. Tomorrow it’s Norway (7-2), before Canada closes the round robin Friday vs. Germany (2-7). Read about yesterday’s victories over Italy and China and watch highlights here.

Major League Baseball took a side. Whether its main motive was money (most likely) or altruism (less likely), MLB’s decision to move the All-Star-Game from Atlanta to Denver was a choice to align with the people objecting to Georgia’s new voting laws over those who support them. Read more about why the voting changes are problematic and why baseball decided to risk triggering a “cancel culture” backlash from conservatives in this excellent piece by CBC Sports contributor Morgan Campbell.

Also…

Want to help CBC Sports build a better Olympic app? During the Tokyo Games, the CBC Olympics app will allow you to stream live events, watch on-demand video and read breaking news and analysis. Let the development team know how to improve your experience by taking part in an online research session between April 12-16. Learn more and sign up here.

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