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'The likelihood of a Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic boycott is increasing by the day,' says analyst

ANI | February 23, 2021 12:44 PM
Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic (Photo Credit - Reuters)

Hong Kong, February 23 (ANI): Beijing is going to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics from February 4 - February 20, but shadow looms over its successful organisation due to global condemnation over its repressive policies on Tibetans, Uyghurs and coronavirus pandemic.

"The likelihood of a 2022 Olympic boycott is increasing by the day," said Natasha Kassam, an analyst at the Lowy Institute, in Sydney, and a former Australian diplomat in China, reported CNN.

Facing not just anger over the treatment of Tibetans, but outright claims of "genocide" against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China's leaders may find it far harder to surf the wave of criticism this year than in 2008.

"Public opinion around the world has soured towards China, as grim realities of the Party-state become common knowledge. The level of public concern about human rights abuses in China in 2022 dwarfs the outrage around the 2008 Games," said Kassam.

Thirteen years ago, the Olympic slogan "One World, One Dream" sounded like the type of pablum typical of the Games anywhere. But now people may be a lot more wary of what exactly that Chinese "dream" might look like as China leans further into its authoritarian style of governance -- and after Chinese President Xi Jinping, himself adopted that phrase as one of his key slogans, reported CNN.

In 2008, Beijing's hosting of the Games was seen as a potential step towards further opening up and political reform in China, but the opposite happened. While China seems unlikely to even pay lip service to the idea of liberalisation this time around, foreign governments will also be far more sceptical of any possible gains, after patting themselves on the back ahead of 2008 only to be embarrassed when few of the supposed concessions were realised.

While the Winter Games do not have quite the prestige of the Summer competition, a successful Olympics next year could be as valuable a soft power win for China as 2008 -- especially if they are the first unconstrained Games to be held since the coronavirus pandemic, with the delayed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics looking ever more beleaguered, reported CNN.

Chinese President Xi Jinping -- who last month visited several key Olympic venues -- has been keenly aware of how the coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, has affected China's standing around the world, with Beijing facing criticism for failing to contain it. A successful Beijing 2022, with hundreds of thousands of vaccinated, mask-free spectators packing stadiums, could serve as the ultimate proof of concept for China's authoritarian political system and Xi's continued tight control over it.

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is not pretending these Games stand a chance of influencing China's political philosophy.

"The Olympic Games are not about politics," former IOC president Jacques Rogge's successor, Thomas Bach, wrote last year. "Neither awarding the Games, nor participating, are a political judgment regarding the host country."

Mueller, the Tibet activist, said this was typical of the IOC: "The narrative changes according to the circumstances. Back then, they said the Olympics would open the door to change ... (now they say) the Olympics are non-political."

Lee Jung-woo, an expert on sports diplomacy and international relations at the University of Edinburgh, said the 2008 Games "enabled China to demonstrate its emerging economy status. The 2022 Winter Olympics could help them to revamp their image from a world factory to world power."

And a key lesson of 2008 for China, beyond the value of the Olympics for soft power, is that a successful Games can wipe out any memory of acrimony and hostility in the run-up to them.

But while the stage may appear set for China to capitalise on a successful Games as a propaganda victory for its handling of coronavirus and its authoritarian style of governance, the trajectory of the pandemic remains unpredictable and too many variables, not to mention variants, remain for any concrete predictions, reported CNN. (ANI)

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