More than 180 organisations have called on governments to boycott Beijing 2022 because of reported human rights abuses against ethnic minorities.
China’s treatment of its own citizens has been the subject of mounting criticism across the world and the World Uyghur Congress has described the event as “a genocide Olympics”.
But Canadian Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said barring athletes from participating in the event would be “a gesture that we know will have no impact whatsoever”.
He told the BBC, “The decision on hosting is not made with a view to signalling approval of a government policy.”
The coalition of campaigners composed of groups representing Tibetans, Uighurs, residents of Hong Kong and others, has issued a joint open letter calling for a boycott of the Games to “ensure they are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent”.
“It is unfortunate that history is repeating what happened 82 years ago with the Nazi Olympics in 1936″ said Dorjee Tseten of Students for a Free Tibet, one of the groups that signed the letter. “Hosting the Games in Berlin helped legitimise Hitler’s genocide against the Jewish people and bolstered the Nazi regime.”
Zumretay Arkin of World Uyghur Congress said: “Our sufferings were completely dismissed by the IOC. It’s now up to the governments to show some decent humanity by boycotting a genocide Olympics.”
But Pound dismissed the criticism. “We’re trying to steer a middle course here using sport as a means of communication even in the worst of times.”
He accepted some countries may consider a diplomatic boycott but insisted it should not extend to athletes.
“There are all kinds of ways that states can signal disapproval but cancelling a sport competition really doesn’t make sense. It does not change the conduct, so why would we sacrifice our athletes and their dreams in a gesture that we know will have no impact whatsoever?”
When asked about the letter, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said he was “fully confident the Beijing Winter Olympics will be a splendid event”.