The IOC's Rot Runs Deep. It Needs to be Reformed from Top to Bottom | Opinion

Our earliest memory of the Olympics was the 1980 Winter Games held in Lake Placid, N.Y.

In perhaps the greatest upset in the history of team sports, the Miracle on Ice, a ragtag group of American collegiate athletes defeated the Soviet Union national hockey team. A wave of patriotic pride and joy swept our country.

At its best, the Olympics can provide a platform for mutual cultural understanding, respect for our differences, a bridge for further dialogue, or as the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) charter states, "to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

At its worst, especially in recent years, the IOC has allowed itself to become a political tool for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to, as President Xi Jinping put it, "tell China's story well." The IOC's board members and its corporate sponsors are complicit in the CCP's crimes against humanity, helping them cover up the Uyghur genocide and other abuses while putting profits over human rights.

Beijing was first selected to host the 2008 Summer Games following the personal lobbying of then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. After his death, the Samaranch Foundation was founded in his honor by his son, Juan Antonio Samaranch Salisachs, with funding from the IOC.

The purported goal of the foundation is "strengthening friendships with China, spreading Olympic Ideal[s] and promoting sports and culture exchanges among China, Spain and the whole world." Salisachs is also chair of the IOC's Coordination Committee for the 2022 Games in Beijing. Among its efforts, the foundation, with IOC support, has hosted sporting events in Xinjiang and Tibet, despite widespread persecution in those areas.

A sponsor of the Samaranch Foundation, and sitting on its board, is the chair and CEO of ANTA Sports. In 2019, the IOC announced that ANTA would be the official sportswear uniform supplier of the IOC, providing apparel, shoes and accessories to IOC members and staff. In 2021, ANTA withdrew from the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) after BCI suspended licensing of cotton from Xinjiang due to forced labor concerns and Uyghur persecution. ANTA pledged to continue using cotton sourced from Xinjiang.

In 2019, when asked about awarding the 2022 games to Beijing, then-president of the International Ski Federation and IOC member Gian Franco Kasper said, "Dictators can organize events such as this without asking the people's permission. ... For us, everything is easier in dictatorships."

One need only look to the IOC's recent handling of Chinese Olympic tennis star Peng Shuai's allegations of sexual assault from a senior CCP official to realize they have discarded the well-being of athletes.

Olympic athletes are now being warned by human rights groups of the dangers of speaking out on human rights while in Beijing. They should have never been put in this situation.

The rot has run deep and it's time for drastic changes.

Placard at the entrance of IOC
A placard at the entrance of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters during a demonstration of Tibetan activists. VALENTIN FLAURAUD/AFP via Getty Images

The IOC's American sponsors should be ashamed to be associated with the IOC's current corrupt leadership. American corporate sponsorships and television contracts are by-far the largest source of funding for the IOC. American sponsors of the IOC include Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Intel, Procter & Gamble and Visa. NBC Universal paid the IOC $7.75 billion for broadcasting rights through 2032. If their concern is harming American athletes, they can contribute directly to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and bypass the IOC.

Congress has repeatedly asked these corporate sponsors to use their influence to urge the IOC to relocate the Games over gross human rights violations. However, each of these companies refused to speak out against the atrocities occurring, cowardly fearful of what it would mean for their bottom lines. These same companies hypocritically publish examples of their good governance and contributions to social justice causes in the United States while ignoring atrocities in China.

There are a number of things we can do to move the IOC toward once again upholding its own moral standards as it did when it banned South Africa from Olympic competition over apartheid.

Earlier this year, we introduced the bipartisan Irresponsible Olympic Collaboration Act that would strip the IOC of its 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. American taxpayers should no longer subsidize investment into these Games that boost propaganda efforts of authoritarian regimes and embolden their image around the world.

The Chinese government received $880 million from the IOC to hold the Games this year in Beijing and $1.25 billion for the 2008 Summer Games. Russia received $833 million for the 2014 Winter Games—only to invade Ukraine's Crimea peninsula weeks later. This goes along with the other revenues the Games generate for host countries and the immeasurable propaganda value for these regimes in distracting the world from their atrocities. We need to give the IOC a choice: make immediate reforms or we will take action to deprive them of American funds and urge other freedom-loving nations to do the same.

In the coming months, we'll be pushing the Beijing Winter Olympics Sponsor Accountability Act, that ensures corporate sponsors that choose their profits over upholding human rights are held accountable. Their federal contracts should be on the table.

While we will always root for the athletes of Team USA to fulfill their Olympic dreams and win gold for our country, we cannot allow the IOC to force the athletes to choose between their values and the ability to compete. We truly hope the IOC once again lives up to its noble goal of "preservation of human dignity."

Mike Waltz, a Republican, represents Florida's 6th district in the House of Representatives.

Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat, represents Virginia's 10th district in the House of Representatives.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.