The 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place in China from February 4 through February 20. They are intended to enhance world unity through friendly competition between great athletes from all nations. A worthwhile goal, to be sure, but this is neither the time nor place for the event.
The 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan were postponed by a year due to COVID-19. Now here we are again, this time with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly through scores of countries. Many of the European and North American nations that dominate the Winter Games are awash in Omicron cases, and holiday celebrations will likely accelerate the variant’s spread.
Omicron’s high transmissibility enables it to infect a far broader spectrum of the population than its predecessors, including athletes and highly risk-averse healthcare providers. Numerous athletes from the professional football, basketball, and hockey leagues have been sidelined due to COVID-19, and games have been postponed. The Olympics ought to follow suit.
China is different from Japan in its policies regarding COVID-19. China has been arguably the most aggressive major nation in the world combating the pandemic, striving for “zero-COVID.” They have enforced lockdowns of entire cities in response to Omicron and enforced isolation of infected individuals. This is incompatible with hosting an Olympics where there will undoubtedly be COVID-positive individuals.
Olympic Athletes this February will inevitably be exposed to Omicron simply by dint of their large numbers and varied origins. What will happen if an outbreak occurs? Will all athletes be tracked by the Chinese government? Will athletes who are asymptomatic but who test positive be forced to miss their events? Will they be detained if they continue to test positive? And what if there is an outbreak among non-participants at one of the venues? Will China lock down the city as they have just done in Xian? If not, how will they prevent the spread? The National Hockey League has already decided to withdraw. Will other sports follow?
For these reasons it is in the best interests of both China and Olympics athletes to postpone the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
But that’s not all: The 2022 Olympics should be relocated. The Games are supposed to be a symbol of unity among nations. They confer prestige and legitimacy to the host country. And they generate immense publicity—which can be used to generate propaganda by a manipulative nation.
The Chinese Government does not deserve these honors. The Biden Administration has already instituted a “diplomatic boycott” of the Games because of human rights abuses against Chinese indigenous minorities, including allegations of beatings, torture and forced organ harvesting. The authoritarian Chinese government also systematically suppresses democracy in general and, specifically, in places such as Hong Kong, where prominent activists have been arrested and jailed, and only government-approved political candidates are allowed to run for office.
But a diplomatic boycott is, as the Brits say, thin gruel. Where is the outrage over China’s anti-democratic actions comparable to reaction to the relatively minor changes in election laws in the U.S. state of Georgia? Yeah, I’m talking to you, Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines. How can you support an Olympics hosted by China? Also, to the Biden Administration and Senate Majority Leader Schumer: your endorsements for the moving of the Baseball All Star Game out of Atlanta but not supporting relocation of the Olympics is the sheerest hypocrisy.
And allowing China to host the Games abets anti-democratic Chinese President Xi, who hopes to secure a third term as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and will use the Olympic Games as propaganda for his campaign. But he has ambitions far beyond his nation’s borders. He has claimed the South China Sea as belonging to China, constructed and fortified artificial islands to which he claims ownership, and funded “maritime militias” to enforce those claims. This poses continual dangers to free shipping. But far more dangerous are his increasingly impatient designs on Taiwan, including numerous incursions of warplanes into the Taiwanese Air Defense Identification Zone that have prompted the deployment of defensive systems. These could easily escalate into combat incidents and spark a war. And what happens then? If China initiates aggressive actions during the Olympics, our athletes will effectively be hostages. They can be detained and isolated due to “COVID concerns” or be caught in a regional lockdown. Can we risk this?
The purpose of the Olympics is to promote international unity. It is not to reward hegemony or human rights violations. Until China abandons its claims to the South China Sea, vows peaceful relations with Taiwan, and releases all political and cultural dissidents; it should not be allowed to host the Olympic Games.