TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The European Elite Athletes Association (EU Athletes), an organization representing over 25,000 European athletes, is calling for reform to the Olympics’ rules regarding protests in anticipation of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
EU Athletes is criticizing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for putting its members in the position of having to compete in China without giving the athletes the right to make protest gestures during the Games.
There are, by some estimates, over 1 million ethnic Uyghurs currently being held in concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang Province.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Paulina Tomczyk, general-secretary of EU Athletes, said, “Athletes should have the right to express their concerns, because they are people… freedom of expression — that is a human right."
She continued, “Athletes don’t have a say on where the events will take place… that is being decided for them by the committee. But, at the same time, they may still face some backlash if they go to such events.”
“There are some people that don’t consider how difficult this position is,” she added.
The IOC countered that its “mission is to place athletes at the heart of the Olympic movement.”
It said there is an internal body of elected athletes that represent their cohort as a whole and that the organization “recognises and upholds human rights as enshrined in both the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter and in the IOC Code of Ethics,” per SCMP.
Some loosening of the restrictions on protest took place for the recently completed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Tomczyk wants to see this extended to future Olympics.
The changes allowed athletes to express their opinions in press conferences and interviews. However, gestures of protest at the podium were still banned.
Also, protest statements had to be general in nature and could not target individuals, nations, or institutions.
Calls for a diplomatic boycott of the Games, which would involve countries refusing to send politicians and dignitaries, continue to grow as abuses in Xinjiang become an issue of ever greater concern in Western capitals.