The Ethics of the Winter 2022 Olympics

By: Tia DeRuiter

As the Winter 2022 Olympic Games come to a close, the questions of its morality still
persist. Located in Beijing, China, this year’s Olympics came under immense criticism
throughout the media due to the numerous human’s rights abuses occurring in the country.
Despite the high levels of surveillance throughout the country, restrictions in freedom of
speec, and the persecution, detainment, and torture of Uyghur Muslims and other ethinic
groups, the Games continued (Lamney 2022; Wharton, 2022). Many human rights
organizations challenged the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) choice to hold the event
even in the country, as it has been recognized that China’s behaviours are paramount to
extreme human rights abuses, and the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims akin to genocide
(Lamney, 2022). Calling into consideration the ethics of the Olympics.

Unfortunately, the criticisms are not new, similar ones were raised prior to 2008
Summer Games in Beijing (Lamney, 2022). Many hoped these Games would prove to be
beneficial for China, encouraging them to better-position themselves in the world, as well as
improve their human rights (Lamney, 2022). Yet, these optimisms proved futile, while China
has grown influentially in the last decade, its ill-treatments of its citizens have become more
dire (Lamney, 2022).

Over the past decade, the world has seen China evolve into an authoritarian state, its
population under constant surveillance, and facing harsh punishments for speaking out
against the regime (Lamney, 2022). In 2017, numerous reports came forth, detailing the
experience of Uyghur Muslims, and other ethnic minorities, experiences in China’s Xinjiang
“re-education” camps (Amnesty International, 2022). Including arbitrary imprisonment,
torture, forced labour, forced sterilization and abortions, and the suppression of Islam
(Amnesty International, 2021). Under the guise of quelling extremism, the Chinese
Government has gone to extraordinary lengths to mask the true nature of these camps
(Amnesty International, 2021). Since then, numerous human right’s organizations, and
governments alike have called out China’s deplorable violations, such as Amnesty
International, and Human Rights Watch

When it was confirmed, in the spring of 2021, that the Winter Olympics will indeed
be held in Beijing, it sparked a wave of denouncements on the international stage. While
many columnists drew attention to the rights abuses, and the boycotts government officials,
like President Biden, have made, few called out what this piece will argue should have
happened: a complete boycott while the Games remained in China (Wharton, 2022).

A key point being made in many articles is that a total boycott of the Olympics would
be harmful, taking away chances the athletes have worked their whole lives for (Lamney,
2022; Wharton, 2022). While it is difficult to not sympathize with this viewpoint, and the
athletes potential loss, it is, in my opinion, inappropriate to dismiss the situation in China for
this reason. Yes, athletes work hard, devote their lives, and give up a lot for their sport, but
people in China are being persecuted for their religion, tortured for basic beliefs, and
imprisoned for speaking out against these injustices (Amnesty International, 2021). The stage
may be the largest in the world, the exposure and competition like no other for the athletes,
but that is not justification for complicity in this treatment. Like many human rights
organizations, this excusal of China’s violations is akin to sports-washing (Regencia, 2022).
That being, “the practice of an individual, group, corporation, or nation-state using a major or
prestigious international sport to improve its reputation, through hosting a sporting event, the
purchase or sponsorship of sporting teams, or by participation in the sport itself’ (Wikipedia).
Much like the Summer 2008 Olympics in Beijing, this event, and the attendance of it, not
only ignores the human rights abuses, but provides China with a stage to boost its reception
(Lamney, 2022; Regelcia, 2022). Despite the devastation it would be for athletes to miss-out
on the Olympics, it is what should have been done, if not to call out China’s atrocious
behaviours, then to not excuse them, or grant an opportunity to disguise them.

The IOC, and some athletes alike, took this excuse one step further, calling the
Olympics a space free from politics, which is instead focused on unity (Lamney, 2022;
Wharton, 2022). While the claim itself is not only preposterous, it is also historically and
contemporarily inaccurate. The Olympics has long been used as international stage for
politics, from the 1936 Games in Germany during the Nazi regime, to Tommie Smith and
John Carlos raising their fists during the American anthem in the 1968 Mexico City Games
(Lamney, 2022; Wharton, 2022). It too has been contended that the continued existence of the
Olympics itself rests in politics, those in which are quite troublesome (Wharton, 2022). This
year’s Olympics, and the decision to hold them in China, is claimed to be one in which stems
from China’s monetary status as an authoritarian state (Wharton, 2022). Unlike other
democratic countries, China does not have to ask and get permission for spending large
amounts on the Olympics, rather its state has full discretion over its spending (Wharton,
2022). Because of this, many have speculated that in the near future, we will begin to see a
pattern of the IOC choosing authoritarian states for their hosts, in order to avoid obstacles and
conflicts in planning and hosting the Games (Wharton, 2022). Thus, while the IOC contends
the Olympics to be a space free from politics, it is entrenched in them, and nothing to ignore.
These are not the Games of unity, but rather those of division, placing the athletes’ and
viewers’ importance above those suffering grave rights violations in China.

The Olympics have long been an enjoyable event for many people, supporting your
country’s athletes, and watching the best of the best. Yet, this year’s Games have posed a
difficult situation for many, between rooting for their country, and acknowledging the
egregious human rights violations occurring in China. While it is hard not to see the validity
of the athletes’ attendance at this year’s Olympics, especially when appealing to emotions, it
is nonetheless a Games entrenched in ethics. In my opinion, this year’s Olympics were
unethical, dismissive, and unfortunately communicative of a disastrous message. That being,
it is okay to put aside China’s atrocious behaviours, and allow them to mask such, in order to
continue the event, its profits, and ultimately its blissfully ignorant enjoyability on an
international stage.


  1. Amnesty International. (2022, January 11). China: Draconian repression of Muslims in
    Xinjiang amounts to crimes against humanity. Amnesty International.
  2. Lamney , D. (2022, February 6). We can’t let China use the Olympics to mask genocide and
    human rights abuses . The Guardian.
  3. Regencia, T. (2022, February 3). Chinese exiles: Boycott winter olympics over Uighur
    ‘genocide’. Winter Olympics News.
    Wikipedia (n.d.). Sportswashing. Wikipedia.
  4. Wharton , D. (2022, February 1). The ‘feel guilty games’?: China’s human rights issues have
    forever marked the Beijing Olympics. Los Angeles Times.

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