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On Eve of 'Genocide Olympics,' American Athletes Are Under Specific Instructions

AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

The 2022 Beijing Olympics have just about arrived, with the opening ceremony to take place on Friday. The games have also earned the name of Genocide Games, due to the human rights abuses committed by China, including reports of genocide against the Uyghurs. The IOC and Biden administration was, for many months, under pressure to put forth a satisfactory response on the games. For the Biden administration, that meant announcing a diplomatic boycott in December. 

Athletes who are there are under some pretty specific, and disappointing instructions. 

Last May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spoke before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission where she urged a diplomatic boycott. "Let's have a diplomatic boycott, if in fact, this Olympics takes place.  Silence on this issue is unacceptable. It enables China's abuses," she said in part. 

During a Thursday testimony before the Congressional-Executive Commission, as highlighted by Jerry Dunleavy for The Washington Examiner, Pelosi once more called out the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and promoted the idea of a diplomatic boycott. 

"Make no mistake--our athletes should participate," she said. "They’ve trained, they’re disciplined, they’ve dreamed, they’ve aspired, they’ve worked hard. But this year we must celebrate them from home as they compete in China."

While she does believe "our athletes should participate," she is also instructing them to keep quiet about any protest against the CCP, as a matter of their protection. 

"I would say to our athletes: You’re there to compete. Do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government because they are ruthless," Pelosi also said. "I know there is a temptation on the part of some to speak out while they are there. I respect that, but I also worry about what the Chinese government might do to their reputations and to their families."

"So, again, participate, let us celebrate from abroad, and don’t risk thinking that there are any good intentions on the part of the People’s Republic of China’s government--because there are none," the speaker also warned.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also tweeted coverage from Bloomberg's Billy House of Pelosi's remark. He commented was "no surprise" that her remarks come as the House is considering legislation to do with addressing China and the CCP, which many Republicans have expressed concerns with

American athletes may also be at risk even if they don't speak out. As Dunleavy also mentioned, the FBI has urged athletes to leave their phones behind and consider using burner phones instead, rather than face the risk of cybersecurity threats.

Over the past several months, GOP lawmakers have warned about the safety risks involved for athletes participating in the games, including Sens. Tom Cotton (AR), Marsha Blackburn (TN), and Marco Rubio (FL). Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has also addressed the dangers.

"No one should be the least bit surprised that China is threatening our athletes and warning them against criticizing their Communist government. President Biden’s diplomatic boycott means nothing to a regime that’s imprisoning activists and committing genocide without consequences. Our athletes are at risk, and yet we've heard nothing from the administration on what they plan to do to protect them," Haley said in a statement for Townhall late last month. 

House Republicans on January 26 also sent a letter to Board Chair Susanne Lyons of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), urging her to make sure athletes are prepared.

"The 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing will be the first Olympic games to take place in a country that is conducting an ongoing genocide. Therefore, these games are an unprecedented threat to American values, inalienable human rights, and the spirit of the Olympics. It is vital that our athletes arrive fully informed about the reality of the genocide occurring in China, as well as the broad range of other human rights abuses and malign actions committed by the Chinese government and Communist Party. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has a responsibility to ensure our athletes are prepared for these unprecedented Olympic games," the letter began.

There are athletes who are attending who have decided to skip the opening ceremony as a form of protest. In a column for The Washington Post, Josh Rogin on Wednesday shared that "Olympic athletes are getting ready to boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing." 

He spoke to some of those athletes, sharing:

When the Winter Olympics officially begin Friday in Beijing, U.S. diplomats and international fans won’t be the only ones missing from the festivities. Olympic athletes from multiple countries who want to show solidarity with the victims of the Chinese government’s human rights abuses have been quietly preparing to boycott the Opening Ceremonies, according to human rights activists who have been helping to educate and organize them. 

For several months, U.S.-based activists have been meeting with Olympic athletes from several Western countries to urge them to speak out on the Chinese government’s mass atrocities and severe repression of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and other groups inside China. The athletes, facing the threat of punishment from the Chinese government if they talk about human rights, have almost all avoided addressing the subject in public. 

The athletes have also come under pressure from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its sponsors to avoid controversy. But if they don’t feel safe speaking out, the activists told them, skipping the Opening and Closing Ceremonies would at least deny the Chinese government the ability to use those ceremonies to legitimize its abuses and whitewash its crimes. Activists told me that athletes from at least two Western teams confirmed they will not be attending the Opening Ceremonies as their personal form of protest. 

“The simple gesture of skipping out on the Opening Ceremonies can be a tremendous opportunity for athletes to show solidarity and compassion towards the Uyghur, Tibetan, Hong Konger and Mongolian communities that have suffered unimaginable human rights violations by the hands of China’s Communist Party,” Dorjee Tseten, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), told me. “Athletes, you have a voice, your gesture of solidarity can make a difference.”

Rogin has also written and tweeted about legislation that takes a stand in support of Uyghurs. After considerable dramas and delays last December, President Joe Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, with little fanfare. 

For all of the achievement that the Biden administration and supporters of a diplomatic boycott may seem, an explainer from Graham Dunbar with the Associated Press at the time of the announcement mentions it's pretty much a useless move. "The impact of these political weapons on athletes at the games should be close to zero, and viewers should see no difference in their broadcast content," he wrote. 

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