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Canadian diplomats to boycott Beijing Winter Olympics: Trudeau

The Government of Canada will join allies in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing, China, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday.

The decision means Canada will not send political leaders, diplomatic missions or representatives to attend the Games, but athletes will still be able to participate in their respective sports. 

 “As a country indeed, as many partners around the world, we are extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government. That is why we are announcing today that we will not be sending any diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said Trudeau.

 “Our athletes have been training for years. They’re looking forward to competing at the highest level against athletes from around the world. And they will continue to have all of our fullest support.”

Trudeau’s remarks come on the heels of announcements that the United States, the U.K., and Australia will be diplomatically boycotting the Olympics over human rights abuses, particularly against the Uyghur ethnic minority. 

Trudeau also spoke briefly about the use of arbitrary detention in light of the recent release of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The ‘two Michaels’ were detained in December 2018 just after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on behalf of U.S. authorities. Both were in detention for 1,019 days. 

“We will continue to stand very clearly as a world leader against the use of coercive diplomacy and tools like arbitrary detention and at the same time we will be there,” Trudeau said.

“We know that our athletes need to have one thing in mind that is representing their countries to the best of their ability and winning that gold medal for Canada. We will be focused on everything necessary to ensure their safety.”

In regards to the safety of Canadian athletes in China, Canada Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge says the Canadian government will work with the RCMP to ensure they all have protective services.

David Shoemaker, the CEO and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee, issued a statement following the announcement.

“We understand and respect the government’s decision to not send diplomatic missions to the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. We also recognize how this announcement draws the important distinction between the participation of athletes and the participation of government officials at the Games,” it read.

“The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee remain concerned about the issues in China but understand the Games will create an important platform to draw attention to them. History has shown that athlete boycotts only hurt athletes without creating meaningful change.

“We also know the importance of Team Canada to Canadians, and we are committed to ensuring they can participate safely at the Games. Our athletes have a unique ability to inspire millions of Canadians of all ages, and billions around the world, while the Games foster increasingly important people-to-people connections.”

ATHLETE BOYCOTT WOULD NEVER WORK — OLYMPIC EXPERT

Robert Livingstone, the producer of GamesBids.com, says a full boycott of the Games would not be fair to athletes who have trained over the course of the past four years, but he notes that a diplomatic boycott still sends a message.

“I think it shows that everybody’s in the same opinion and that China needs to change,” Livingstone said.

“Canada’s specific impact on China may not be so much, but it was interesting that the Olympic Truce was just introduced in the United Nations this week, and I think it was 173 of 193 countries that signed it. Notably absent were Canada and the United States.”

Livingstone notes however that athletes could still make the choice to boycott the Games, taking issue with human rights violations along with their personal safety in light of recent issues with Chinese tennis player, Peng Shuai. 

“This has added a lot of concerns in the tennis community of course because a lot of athletes are personal friends of hers,” Livingstone said. 

In November, Shuai had accused former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli on social media of sexually assaulting her, where she also detailed a three-year affair with him afterward.

The allegations were quickly censored by the Chinese government, resulting in Shuai vanishing from public view in what was suspected to be a forced disappearance before reappearing at a tennis tournament two weeks later.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Tuesday that it cannot give any certainty about her case following two video calls with the Grand Slam doubles champion. 

‘GAMES WITHOUT POLITICS’ — IOC PRESIDENT

IOC president Thomas Bach says the mission of his group is to ensure a successful operation of the winter sport with complete political neutrality.

Bach recognizes that tensions are high and says the Olympics should not contribute to further conflicts between nations.

“On the other hand, our mission and our responsibility is to ensure that everything related to the Olympic Games, including the Olympic Charter and the host contract is fully respected. This includes the respect of human rights for all participants,” he said.

“We have been concerned with the athletes, we welcome that they can participate, that they are supported by their national governments and the rest is politics and our political neutrality.”

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