Beijing will have competition next year in Olympic competition.
It’s not the United States (although it might make for an excellent shootout between the Broncos and Steelers) or China’s soccer neighbors. It’s Canada.
In a dramatic move, the Canadian Olympic Committee issued a statement Tuesday informing Beijing organizers of its intention to boycott the 2022 Winter Games. That may not be an easy decision to make.
Canada will take part in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, scheduled for February, in South Korea. With the exception of the 2018 and 2022 men’s golf tournaments, all events will be held in the U.S.
A boycott would be seen as a major step forward in a growing movement in which Canadians are being asked to reconsider their Olympic involvement in light of China’s human rights record.
Some are also seeking a boycott of the Pyeongchang games, which — with the exception of the 2018 hockey tournament, which has been moved out of North Korea’s Korean Peninsula to South Korea — will be held in South Korea.
In the latest in a series of developments, the Canadian Olympic Committee’s chief executive, Chris Overholt, said the Canadian contingent will be meeting with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland soon to figure out next steps.
“The (OC) and our athletes are very important to us,” Overholt said. “So we want to be an important and vital part of this event.”
Although the Pyeongchang Games are months away, it is clear that the boycott of China’s 2022 Olympics will enter into discussion. Overholt declined to discuss the impact of a boycott on the Canadian Olympic team.
While the Olympic Games will hardly be in the league of a major international sports event, the discussions around Canada’s decision illustrate the extent to which human rights and foreign policy issues affect the decision-making process for athletes.
Overholt stressed that he didn’t feel Canada was making a “political statement” by trying to persuade other countries to follow its lead. Rather, Overholt said, the bid committee wanted to have a discussion with the International Olympic Committee about the situation in China.
Overholt said Canada will be looking at ways to support its athletes at next year’s games, both in terms of resourcing and support.
“I don’t think people are going to say, ‘Canada is overreacting,’” Overholt said. “I don’t think this is going to become a political issue. I think it’s going to become a practical, quantifiable, shared, informed, very thoughtful and respectful discussion.”
Overholt declined to comment on whether all Olympic nations will ultimately use their moral capital to call on Beijing to step up its human rights efforts or whether others will simply try to sort out how to make the countries on their sports teams whole and wholehearted.
He also wouldn’t say whether or not the Chinese would be open to the idea of a boycott if Canada were to pursue it.
Garrett McNab, an international affairs professor at Georgia State University, said he was not surprised by Canada’s move.
“The Canadian decision is clearly not a substitute for a larger, more significant discussion or political activity outside of the Olympic Games,” McNab said. “The IOC is not going to take it lying down.”
Freeland, an influential legislator who is regarded as Canada’s first female foreign minister, signaled she would support Canada’s athletes at next year’s Olympics.
“We are fully supportive of our athletes in the games,” Freeland said. “I will be talking to them and meeting with them soon. We will be focusing on their planning.”