TOKYO - The eyes of the world are on the Tokyo Olympics, but with the Beijing 2022 Winter Games less than seven months away, pressure is mounting on the International Olympic Committee (IOC): four key members of the U.S. Congress are calling on President Thomas Bach to postpone the Games in China.
“No Olympics should be held in a country whose government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity”. The sentence is part of a letter Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative James P. McGovern, both from the Democratic Party and the Chair and Co-chair, respectively, of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China, sent to Bach.
The Democrats were joined on the letter by CECC Commissioners Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Christopher Smith, both former CECC Chairs and both Republicans.
“This action would also be in the best interests of the athletes,” said the CECC Commissioners. “We find it unfair for the IOC to force athletes to sacrifice their conscience in order to pursue their competitive goals, or vice versa.”
The letter that the American politicians sent to Bach is strong in several paragraphs, and does not shy away from telling the IOC president what they think the body he heads should do.
“We believe that it would reflect extremely poorly on the Olympic movement, and the international community in general, if the IOC were to proceed with holding the Olympic Games in a country whose government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity as if nothing were wrong.
To proceed with business as usual is implied consent and suggests the IOC has learned nothing from the Chinese government’s use of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to score propaganda wins and distract from its appalling human rights record. The IOC is on course to set a dark precedent where the behavior of future Olympic host governments is unconstrained by the international spotlight provided by the Olympic Games.”
The four American politicians take advantage of the postponement of Tokyo 2020 for a year due to the covid-19 pandemic to tell Bach that it would not be so complex for him to do the same with Beijing 2022.
“On March 24, 2020, four months before the planned start of the 2020 Summer Olympics, you announced jointly with the Japanese government a postponement of the Tokyo Games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This demonstrates that the IOC is capable of orchestrating a postponement of the Olympic Games on short notice. If the Olympic Games can be postponed for a year for a pandemic, they can be postponed a year for a genocide.”
Mark Adams, IOC’s spokesperson, reacted already on Saturday to the letter, and toned down the issue.
“If it’s the letter I believe we are talking about, yes we have received a letter. We get many kind of such requests. The Games for us are an important symbol of non-discrimination of rights and so on and we are determined to make sure the rights are respected in the context of the Games. That’s our role. The role of the governments and other international organizations is to deal with wider issues and obviously we encourage them to do that. We will of course be responding to such a letter in the near future I imagine.”
In addition to the pressure on the IOC, the U.S. parliamentarians are putting pressure on U.S. companies that are part of the TOP sponsorship program, essential to the financial health of the IOC.
“The Commission has invited the U.S.-based companies who sponsor the Olympics through The Olympic Partner (TOP ) Programme of the IOC to this hearing to address how they can leverage their influence to insist on concrete human rights improvements in the People’s Republic of China and how they will manage the material and reputational risks of being associated with an Olympic Games held in the midst of a genocide.”
The hearing will be held on Tuesday 27th, and several senior officials from major companies have been invited to attend: David Holyoke, Head of Olympics and Paralympics Partnership, Airbnb; Paul Lalli, Global Vice President for Human Rights, The Coca-Cola Company; Steven R. Rodgers, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Intel Corporation; Sean Mulvaney, Senior Director, Global Government Relations and Public Policy, The Procter & Gamble Company; Andrea Fairchild, Senior Vice President of Global Sponsorship Strategy, Visa Inc.