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Additionally, the IOC wouldn’t want to find a new, last-minute host for the 2022 Winter Games after already delaying the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo by a year due to COVID-19. The IOC is committed to the Games going ahead as planned, seen in the refuting of a recent report suggesting that the Tokyo Games will be cancelled.
Although one might look to the International Ice Hockey Federation’s recent removal of the 2021 World Championships from Belarus as an example for the IOC to follow, it’s a slightly different situation. Formally, the federation pulled hosting rights to protect the safety of players and officials. Informally, it pulled hosting rights because a major sponsor threatened to withdraw funding. Neither of these appear to be the case for Beijing 2022.
Sport diplomacy a better route
Instead, it’s probably more helpful to use participation at the Beijing Games as a way to raise awareness of human rights issues and as a form of sport diplomacy.
We have seen this play out with Qatar’s labour law reforms after intense scrutiny as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Professional sports leagues have also provided an avenue for athletes to raise awareness about Black Lives Matter, an example of positive engagement.
The hurdle to this approach is the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50.2 that states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” This rule has been criticized and the IOC’s Athlete’s Commission is putting forward recommendations to reconsider the rule, including input from Canadian athletes.
This isn’t to say that raising awareness, demonstrations and protests by athletes will solve the problems. But history shows that athlete protests can have a powerful effect.
What could affect more change? Having more athletes with the bravery of Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman, who used the medal podium at the 1968 Mexico Olympics to protest anti-Black racism, or Canadian athletes staying home next year?
Ryan Gauthier is assistant professor of Law at Thompson Rivers University.