— Published 9 December 2021

For the Beijing Games, the American allies are playing together

Joe Biden can rub his hands together: his diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games is being emulated. After Australia, whose government was the first to follow the White House’s lead, two other countries have joined the movement. The United Kingdom, then Canada, announced on Wednesday 8 December their decision not to send an official delegation to Beijing next February.

Like Australia, whose announcement came from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the British and Canadians left it to their respective leaders to deliver the message.

Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, took advantage of the weekly question time in Parliament to express his government’s position. He announced that there would be no official representation at the Beijing Winter Games, but reiterated that a boycott of sport was “not the policy” of his government.

A few hours later, Canada joined the group of US allies whose absence will be noticeable on 4 February at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Games. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister, in turn announced in a press conference his government’s decision for a diplomatic boycott of the Olympic event. “We are deeply disturbed by the Chinese government’s human rights violations,” he said.

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) issued a statement commenting on the authorities’ announcement. We understand and respect the government’s decision not to send diplomatic missions to the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing,” the COC wrote in a statement also signed by the Canadian Paralympic Committee. We also recognise how this announcement draws an important distinction between athlete and government official participation in the Games.”

Which will follow? It’s hard to say. Asked in the aftermath of the US announcement, the French presidency hinted that its decision had not been made, but would not depend on the US position. Emmanuel Macron was one of the few heads of state present last summer at the opening of the Tokyo Games. His presence was largely justified by the prospect of hosting the next edition of the Summer Games in Paris.

The Japanese government also announced that it wanted to give itself time to analyse and reflect before taking an official position on the Beijing 2022 Games.

What do the Chinese think? Obviously, they don’t care. After the announcement by the United States of a diplomatic boycott, the Chinese embassy in Washington recalled, not without irony, that his country had not sent an official invitation to the White House to attend the Beijing Games. For the Chinese regime, the diplomatic boycott therefore came out of “nowhere”.

On Wednesday, Chinese diplomatic spokesman Wang Wenbin used much the same words to comment on the Australians’ decision to turn their backs on China as well. No one cares whether they come or not,” he said, referring to Australian officials. Their politicking and petty games will not change the success of the Olympic Games.”

Between the two camps, the IOC is careful not to choose. The Olympic body is sticking firmly to its position of political neutrality, the only one that is tenable less than two months before the opening of the Beijing Games, an event that is supposed to bring 300 million Chinese into winter sports.

Thomas Bach repeated this once again in front of the media on Wednesday 8 December, at the end of the second day of the executive committee meeting: “The presence of officials is a purely political decision. The principle of neutrality applies for the IOC.”

The German leader insisted: “We are concerned with the athletes who are supported by their governments, the rest is politics. If we were to start taking political positions, we would never bring the 205 or 206 National Olympic Committees to the Games. That would be the politicisation of the Olympic Games, and that would be the end of the Olympic Games.