Courtesy of SlicesOfLight via Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 2022 Winter Olympics being in Beijing, China have caused a host of controversies because of the ongoing human rights violations in the country. It’s easy to point fault at the Olympic athletes and individual countries for going to the event despite the knowledge of concentration camps for Uyghur Muslims and journalists and dissenters of the Chinese government disappearing, among others. However, the IOC is truly at fault for deciding that this year’s Olympics will take place in Beijing despite these violations and, going forward, needs to make wiser decisions about where this important event is held. 

Unfortunately, it is difficult to solely blame countries and their athletes for allowing the Winter 2022 Olympics to go forward in China. The Olympics are a source of national pride for countries all over the world, and Olympians spend their lifetimes trying to qualify for the chance to be in these prestigious events. It’s understandable that countries were unable to simply boycott the events this year, whether out of national pride and excitement for the event or to remain on somewhat good terms with China.

Especially in the United States, we are used to athletes speaking out against unjust causes. However, the situation with China is quite volatile. Chinese citizens who speak out against the Chinese Communist Party frequently disappear, and if they do come back, they are placed on close watch by the government. Although many of the athletes competing are foreigners to China, it is understandable why many are choosing to remain silent — they fear that speaking out could mean the Chinese government ruins their reputations, or worse. It is difficult, therefore, to shift the blame toward the athletes for these games still happening, as they are in an environment where they simply are not safe to speak out the way they normally might be able to.

Instead, all eyes should be on the IOC. They are the ones who choose in advance where the Olympics will take place, and that’s where the problem stems from. They need to take responsibility for their choices, and for better vetting ahead of time to determine whether the location they’re looking at has an ongoing issue with human rights violations like China does. It should be a general rule that countries participating in ongoing human rights violations should simply not hold the Olympics. Though it certainly is disappointing for innocent civilians of these countries that they don’t get to host the oldest sporting competition, it is a necessary sacrifice to send a message to their government. Most disappointing is that this isn’t even the first time that the IOC has chosen a country that is currently violating human rights to host the Olympics. Russia got the Olympics at Sochi in 2014, and even further back, Nazi Germany hosted the games in Berlin in 1936. 

The IOC is at full fault for not being more wise about where the games are held, and indeed, in how they run the games in general. The way that the Olympics are currently run is incredibly wasteful and displaces hundreds of thousands of people in favor of massive stadiums that are never used again and housing for athletes. If anything, the IOC more than anyone else needs to take a good hard look at making this tradition more sustainable and equitable for everyone, regardless of where the games are hosted. To continue on this path means nothing but turmoil for everyone. 

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