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Olympic Hypocrisy: Ban Sexist Talk, Ignore Genocide

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was fired by the Tokyo Olympics planning committee last month after making sexist remarks about women talking too much in meetings. At the height of the controversy, the International Olympic Committee issued a statement labeling his remarks “absolutely inappropriate” and highlighting the IOC’s progress in promoting equality of the sexes, “a basic human right of profound importance and a Fundamental Principle of the Olympic Charter.”

But the IOC has a massive moral blind spot: the widespread and systematic abuse of women by China, which will host the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. In June 2020, the Associated Press reported China was subjecting ethnic Uighur and other Muslim women in Xinjiang to mass forced sterilization, forced abortion and forced birth control. In January 2021, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo determined that these and other abuses amounted to genocide. More than 160 human-rights organizations have written the IOC calling for it to move the 2022 Games because of China’s human-rights abuses.

In response, the IOC has ducked responsibility and claimed that awarding the Olympic Games “does not mean that the IOC agrees with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards” of the host country. The IOC’s invocation of political neutrality is nothing new, but in the case of China the IOC knew what it was getting into. The 2008 Summer Olympics, also in Beijing, were a festival of broken Chinese promises on human rights, and China has since become even more repressive.

Yet the IOC seems more concerned with not embarrassing Xi Jinping than with his regime’s human-rights violations. Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” This rule serves simultaneously as the basis for selectively ignoring political controversies and a threat that keeps Olympians in line. Last year the IOC issued Orwellian guidelines for Rule 50 in order to maintain the shibboleth that athlete activism is an existential threat to the games.

Operating under a similar mindset, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee in August 2019 gave hammer thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden a one-year probation in response to their antiracism protests.

But what happens when the Olympics themselves are one giant propaganda demonstration? Today, the IOC’s situational insistence that the games are “outside politics” is a boon for the Chinese Communist Party and other human-rights abusers. The IOC and its corporate sponsors are hoping to elide mass internment, systemic rape, and forced sterilization by silencing athletes and repeating Chinese assurances “that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be respected in the context of the Games.” As long as Mr. Xi doesn’t make crude sexist jokes, the IOC will give him a pass on brutalizing women in Xinjiang. The rest of us shouldn’t.


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