February 7, 2022

Why Boycotting the Olympics doesn’t Help Anyone (& What we need to Talk about Instead).


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Shall we boycott the Olympics 2022 or support the athletes?

To be honest, this is going to be the most difficult article I have ever written. Why? Because I am biased on many levels.

Some folks might get upset with what I am about to say, but that’s actually part of my argument. I love freedom of speech.

It’s pretty obvious that China doesn’t meet our standards when it comes to freedom of speech or human rights. No doubt about that. We hear stories about the brutal social credit score system, human rights violations against minorities, and censorship. And just to be clear, I do not deny any of these shortcomings.

At the same time, I have huge respect for Chinese culture. My dad travelled a lot to China for business when I was a kid. I had been to China as a little boy and still believe in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

When I studied political science, I was fascinated by China’s economic growth. I studied International Relations as a major with a focus on terrorism, democracy, and developing nations. Both of these topics are connected with our current conversation.

Did you know that 40 years ago, less than 100 million Chinese people had access to electricity and water? Did you know that their economic growth made these essential goods available to more than 500 million of their citizens?

But at what price?

China’s economic growth is also a huge contributor to global warming. The emissions of China are a huge problem today. Not to forget the social credit score system that keeps everyone busy and under control.

Despite my fascination for Chinese culture, I never thought about learning Chinese or moving there. Why? Because I love freedom of speech and hate authority. But would I compete in the Olympics? Hell, yes.

First of all, athletes did not decide to have the Olympics in China. That was the International Olympic Committee (IOC) led by Thomas Bach. If anyone is to blame for anything happening these days, it’s Bach and his fellow members of the IOC.

Let’s take a look at this organization that is registered in Switzerland as a nonprofit organization. The IOC makes billions of dollars every year but pays no taxes. They also demand tax exemptions from hosting nations, which is one of the reasons why many democratic countries don’t want to host the games anymore.

That’s why the 2014 games took place in Russia, and now, we are talking about China. Isn’t that interesting?

Let’s also take a look at the economic interest involved in this. Saying that the United States and Europe have a lot of business going on in China would be a ridiculous understatement. The U.S. is China’s largest trading partner. China has been Germany’s largest trading partner since 2015.

Please remind me if I am wrong, but I don’t remember much outrage about that. But now, we are talking about boycotting the Olympics.

Is it the fault of cancer survivor Max Parrot, who won a gold medal in men’s snowboarding this morning, that the IOC decided to hold the games in China?

And I could write down a list of inspiring athletes who compete in disciplines that don’t get much attention outside of the Olympics. There are so many amateur athletes who worked their entire life for participating in the Olympics. Every athlete has a time window for that, and the Olympics only happen once in four years.

Shall they give up on their dreams because the IOC sold them out? Shall we ignore these hardworking athletes because China doesn’t meet our expectations on human rights?

We could do that if it wasn’t so hypocritical. As long as we type our angry rants about China on a smartphone that was manufactured in China, we are on shaky grounds. Do you remember that cute dress you bought for 10 bucks? It was probably made in China.

I am all in for talking about human rights and freedom of speech. And that’s what I love about the Olympics this year.

If it was China’s plan to make the world think that there was no problem with human rights, it’s safe to say that that didn’t work out. At no point in time have we paid so much attention to this topic. Let’s also be honest about that.

And then there are athletes like Zhu Yi. She was born in the United States but decided to compete for China, which sparked controversy after her not getting the expected results. At the same time, the Chinese media can’t wait for California-born Eileen Gu to compete for China in freeskiing.

The Chinese version of Twitter, Weibo, is already busy censoring an ongoing debate within China’s society. I am sure that’s not exactly what the Chinese government hoped to happen.

I totally understand the uproar about the decision to have China as a host for the games. The time to protest was years ago when the decision was made.

Maybe the IOC learned its lesson? The winter games in 2026 will take place in Italy.

We need to talk about human rights violations. We need to talk about the IOC as an organization itself. We need to rethink our economic relationship with China. And we have to insist on freedom of speech whenever possible.

But let’s not have this conversation on the backs of athletes who don’t make millions. Most of the athletes in the Winter Olympics don’t even make enough money to pay for their expenses. The exposure during the Olympics is the only way for them to get sponsors and finance doing what they love.

Not to forget that these athletes are the ones who have to go through the hardships of competing in a country that monitors literally every step they take. I am sure there will be reports on what really happened after these athletes return to their home countries.

Maybe these athletes and their stories will spark a deeper conversation on our relationship with China?

We will see what happens, but it’s safe to say that the Winter Olympics 2022 didn’t help China to distract from any existing problems—and that’s a good thing.

And, of course, there is one big question that overshadows all of this: do we need winter sports? Do we want Chinese folks to discover their passion for skiing? Is it acceptable if they start wasting energy on building new ski resorts?

Well, that’s a topic for another article.

If you heavily disagree with my perspective or want to add anything to this conversation, you are more than welcome to submit a mindful take on this here. May it be of benefit.

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