UK prime minister Boris Johnson said on 7th December there would “effectively be a diplomatic boycott” of the Winter Olympics in Beijing given that no British ministers or officials would be attending February’s Games.
The UK was joined by Australia and Canada in confirming it would not be sending officials. The United States had already announced a diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 over China’s record on human rights, particularly the treatment of the Uighur Muslim community in Xinjiang province. New Zealand said it would not be sending officials due to Covid-19 concerns.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said he welcomed governmental support for athletes to compete at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, despite the growing diplomatic tension.
Asked about Johnson’s comments, Bach told a press conference: “The IOC has always been concerned with the participation of the athletes in the Olympic Games.
“Therefore we welcome the support for their Olympic team that all these governments have been emphasising.
“This is giving the athletes certainty and this is what the IOC is about.
“The integrity of the Games are about the integrity of the sports and competitions.
“We have our full focus on the athletes who the Games are for.
“It is the same comment for every political decision for every government.
“We welcome that athletes can participate, supported by their national governments, and the rest is politics.”
Bach was also invited to address criticism of how the IOC has handled contact with Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.
Concerns have been raised over Peng’s safety and wellbeing after she alleged in November she had been sexually assaulted by a senior official in the country’s government.
Bach held a 30-minute video call with Peng last month. But the footage of the call was not released and organisations, including the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) – which has suspended the hosting of events in China over its concerns for Peng – remain deeply concerned for her safety.
The IOC announced it had held a further video call with Peng on 2nd December and had agreed a personal meeting in January.
Bach said: “We will continue the contact with Peng Shuai, continue to support her.
“But you also have to understand that in order to do this you have to build trust and the confidence there.
“We have achieved things so far in these talks what we could reasonably expect to achieve.
“We will continue the support, it’s about an individual and an athlete. You have to approach and respect the human being.
“In such a fragile situation that Peng Shuai is in, we have to make all the efforts to build trust and engage in a human relationship.
“This is not easy in a video call, but we want to keep in touch and have other calls. We want to be assured about her physical integrity as much as we can.”
Similar “quiet diplomacy”, Bach said, with the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan had also proved effective.
Bach said the IOC had told the Taliban that free access to sport “without any discrimination of gender, ethnic, religious or any other grounds” is fundamental for compliance with the Olympic charter.
He added that more than 300 members of Afghanistan’s Olympic community had received humanitarian visas and efforts were ongoing to evacuate others from the country.
The IOC executive board, Bach added, had approved a humanitarian aid package of up to US$560,000.
A report on last summer’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics was also on the IOC agenda in Zurich, with Bach hailing the so-called ‘Ghost Games’ that had no fans present because of the coronavirus pandemic as a “great success”.
Bach said the global television audience was 3.05 billion when linear TV and digital figures were combined, while the IOC’s broadcast partners’ total of 28 billion digital views was up from 11.6 billion in Rio de Janeiro five years earlier.
He added more than 650,000 Covid-19 tests were carried out from 1st July to 8th August, with a positivity rate of just 0.02 per cent.
Bach said: “We saw in Tokyo, the Olympic atmosphere coming over ever more intense than at Games with a large audience, because the athletes gave these Games a deep soul.”