April 20, 2021

As ongoing reports emerge regarding China’s persecution of Uighurs, there have been calls from around the world to boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympics. But how effective are boycotts against how the games proceed, and do they truly have any effect at all?

Throughout history, there have been several times when the Olympic games have been hosted in countries that many did not agree with. Boycotts stem back to 1936 when Berlin was set to host the summer games, but those games proceeded with no issue.

Some would say this situation is different, as the world is aware of the concentration camps in Xinjiang and the treatments prisoners are being forced to undergo.

Reports from survivors, media reports and many documents and videos detail the treatment occurring in these camps, which includes forced sterilization of women and political brainwashing.

The Canadian government recently voted to label the actions taken against the Uighers a genocide, and yet it is unlikely that the games will be affected in any way.

This is due to a series of factors, the largest being cost and time. According to the International Olympic Committee (IOC): “around USD $2.5 billion is put towards the staging of the Olympic Games, to ease the financial burden on the host cities.”

This money has already been invested in Beijing to build not only facilities for the games to be hosted, but to build the Olympic village and several other sites necessary to hold the games. Even if the games are boycotted, and calls are made to the IOC to cancel or move the games, it simply will not happen due to the amount of time and money already invested.

Another recent move by China will also likely stop any country from attempting to boycott the 2022 games, and that is the threat of sanctions against any country that follows through with a plan to not attend the games in protest.

While this is a clear abuse of power from the Chinese government, it will likely work. China is one of the most influential trading partners in the world, and sanctions against any major country could result in the loss of millions, if not billions of dollars. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), in October 2020 China exported $36.5 billion worth of products to the United States alone.

Even with neither of these factors at play, just looking back through history shows that regardless of other countries’ actions the games will proceed. When concerns arose surrounding Berlin in 1936, the IOC conducted an investigation and deemed Germany fit to host. Despite movements across the United States to boycott, they still attended the games. At the time, the Berlin games hosted more teams than any prior Olympic games, which many would call a success in and of itself.

With calls now for the UN to investigate China, who’s to say the same thing will not happen again? Investigations can take years, and right now that time doesn’t exist. 

Right now, the rest of the world is at a disadvantage. The sad truth is that the events happening now will be another mark of failed protests that ultimately led to little effect and a successful Olympic games.

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