IOC won't pressure China

Human rights issues in host countries not within Olympic remit: V-P Coates

MELBOURNE • A senior member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) yesterday swatted aside suggestions that China should be challenged over its human rights record ahead of the Beijing Winter Games.

When asked about the treatment of the Uighur minority in China, IOC vice-president John Coates insisted that the body has no mandate to act.

"We are not a world government. We have to respect the sovereignty of the countries who are hosting the Games," Coates told an event in his native Australia.

Rights groups believe at least one million Uighurs and members of other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in the north-western Xinjiang region, and Beijing has also been accused of squeezing human rights in Hong Kong.

They have called for the postponement of the Games, while China has denied wrongdoing, saying it has set up vocational training centres to combat extremism.

"We have no ability to go into a country and tell them what to do... it's not our remit," Coates added.

"The IOC does place a very high emphasis on human rights.

"I know it's a very important part of the fundamental principles of Olympism, the fundamental principles set out in the Olympic charter.

"But the IOC's remit is to ensure that there are no human rights abuses in respect of the conduct of the Games within the National Olympic Committees or within the Olympic movement."

The IOC and its members choose who hosts the Games and help run the event. The body styles itself as the "guardian" of the Olympics and vows to "build a better world through sport".

Coates was also asked why the IOC would intervene in Afghanistan, where the Games are not being held, but not take a stand in countries where they are.

The IOC said last month it had helped around 100 members of the "Olympic community" in Afghanistan to leave the country on humanitarian visas after the Taliban took control.

"The work the IOC is doing is to protect the Olympians and those involved in the Olympic moments, those who comprise the sports federation in Afghanistan," he said.

"That's within our remit. The situations that you have referred to, the humanitarian ones in China, is not within our remit."

The Beijing Winter Olympics take place next February, but there have also been calls for sponsors and others to boycott them or to find a way to protest the state of human rights in China.

The United States Congress has grilled five major sponsors - including Visa and Airbnb - accusing them of supporting the alleged genocide of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

In response, Beijing has accused US politicians of "politicising sports" and of slandering China.

China has been ruled by the Communist Party since 1949 and has hosted the Olympics once before - the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.

That event was widely viewed as a showcase for China's growing wealth and status as a rising power.

This time around, foreign fans will be banned due to coronavirus restrictions and the Winter Games will take place after several crackdowns - including in Hong Kong - designed to consolidate President Xi Jinping's power.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2021, with the headline 'IOC won't pressure China'. Subscribe