China Pushes Back on 'Politicization of Sports' as Pressure Mounts for U.S. Olympics Boycott

Activists and Republican politicians are calling for the United States to boycott the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games because of China's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its treatment of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

America has boycotted the Olympics just once—the 1980 summer Moscow games—and the Biden administration hasn't made a final decision yet. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated on Thursday it was possible the U.S. wouldn't attend, a marked shift from a few weeks ago, when she said there weren't any conversations about changing plans.

Asked about the White House's lack of a decision, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin criticized the "politicization of sports" for going against the "spirit of the Olympic Charter."

"The whole international community, including the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, should oppose the wrong moves to boycott the Olympic Games or change the host," Wang said at a Friday press conference. "We are confident that with the concerted efforts of all parties, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games will be an extraordinary event."

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee doesn't support a 2022 boycott because such moves "negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues," committee spokesman Jon Mason told CNBC. Psaki said the administration would "of course" look to the committee for guidance, so a boycott doesn't seem likely at this point. But the games are still a year away.

2022 olympic games beijing china boycott
Reporters visit the Yanqing Exhibition Center during a media tour of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games venues in Beijing on February 5. Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty

Forty years ago, President Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the 1980 games after the Soviet Union failed to comply with his deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Canada, West Germany and Japan joined the U.S. in the boycott, which was met with mixed reactions.

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is among those pressuring President Joe Biden to pull out of the 2022 Olympics, comparing it to the 1936 games in Germany. In a Fox News op-ed, she argued that the United States wouldn't have participated in the '36 games if the world had known what Nazi Germany would become. She also wrote that China is "obviously more dangerous today than Nazi Germany was in 1936."

Unlike in 1936, when there was "enough foolish optimism," Haley said there should not be "such misplaced hope about communist China. She pointed to its crackdown on Hong Kong's autonomy, which sparked massive protests in 2019; the "systemic and determined cover-up" of the pandemic; and the "genocide" of the Uighur population.

"Given Communist China's direction, it could soon become what Nazi Germany was in the 1940s," Haley wrote. "It is not a country the United States should glorify through participation in the Winter Olympics.... President Biden must make the decision to boycott. It shouldn't be a tough one."

In former President Donald Trump's final days in office, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration had determined China committed "genocide and crimes against humanity" in its repression of the Uighur Muslims. Pompeo also said he believed the U.S. was witnessing China's "systematic attempt to destroy Uighurs."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told senators during a confirmation hearing he agreed with the genocide declaration. China has denied the accusations.

The games are set to begin on February 4. Republican Representative Mike Waltz introduced a resolution calling for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to withdraw from the 2022 games if they aren't moved out of Beijing. Sending athletes to Beijing, Waltz said in a statement, legitimizes China's "heinous acts."