déjà vu

It’s Time for Olympic Protests Again

A police officer tries to stop protesters from displaying a Tibetan flag and a banner reading “NO GENOCIDE GAMES” during the lighting of the Olympic flame at Ancient Olympia site. Photo: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP/Shutterstock

Time flies when you have no idea what day it is; right now, for example, it could be August or any of the summer months, though it could just as easily be spring. Somehow I have a hard time believing that it is actually October, and that the Olympics are still a few months away, and that they are already catalyzing protests due to alleged abuses by the host city and ethically questionable behavior by the International Olympic Committee in general. Seems like we just did this news cycle, but … okay, here we are again, I guess.

Per the Associated Press, a trio of activists crashed the torch-lighting ceremony in Greece’s Temple of Hera on Monday, carrying a banner emblazoned with “NO GENOCIDE GAMES.” Since before the Summer Games even, human-rights organizations have urged the IOC to withdraw Beijing’s Winter Olympics privileges — the city is set to host in February; usually we get more space between summer and winter festivities, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed the former by a year — citing China’s alleged detention of Muslim Uighur, an ethnic group living in an autonomous region of the country. The United Nations suspects that between 2017 and 2018, the Chinese government had forced over 1 million Uighur into internment camps, which have only grown more crowded since. In detention, Uighur are believed to be tortured and sexually abused and made to renounce their religion in favor of state doctrine. China also appears to be conscripting Uighur into forced labor under inhumane conditions and may be subjecting them to forced contraception, sterilization, and abortion as well.

For all these reasons and more, groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned the IOC’s decision to hold the Winter Games in China. Predictably, though, the athletic body has declined to withdraw its contract, IOC president Thomas Bach trotting out the Olympics as “politically neutral ground” defense.

“Only this political neutrality ensures that the Olympic Games can stand above and beyond the political differences that exist in our times,” Bach said of Monday’s protests, per the AP. “The Olympic Games cannot address all the challenges in our world. But they set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another.”

That last point is debatable, as the recent Summer Olympics (which ran from late July to early August, just to mitigate any temporal confusion) made clear. The IOC presides over an event in which sport authorities often hold athletes of color to demonstrably different standards than their white peers yet demand that competitors stand up and support systems that have never supported them. And then there are the revelations of rampant sexual abuse in swimming, gymnastics, and other sports — allegations that don’t evince a high level or respect for athletes nor the rules.

Anyway, police reportedly tackled and detained the three protesters who interrupted the torch-lighting ceremony; they also stopped another group of activists before they accessed the site. Despite growing calls for a boycott, the IOC has no plans to renege on Beijing: The Games will begin on February 4, with only spectators from mainland China currently allowed in the stands — one of the protocols instituted in deference to COVID safety. Déjà vu, no?

It’s Time for Olympic Protests Again