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Opinion I’ll skip the Olympics. You should, too.

Staff members wear full body suits to protect against the coronavirus as they walk along the track of the National Sliding Centre at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 1. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

I have never been a fan of the Olympics. Or, I should say, I have never been a fan of the International Olympic Committee.

An organization that rewards dictatorial regimes (Russia in 2014, and now China for the second time) with events that attract billions of eyeballs and sappy worldwide coverage — all while punishing athletes who stand up for human rights — is not apolitical or “promoting the Olympic spirit.” It’s making money off and providing cover for brutal regimes that use the Games to burnish their image.

To stage the Games in the midst of China’s genocide of Uyghurs and ongoing repression of Tibet and Hong Kong is an atrocity. To herald the spirit of sports in a police state that is clearly holding tennis star Peng Shuai captive — and worse, staged obvious PR stunts to clear China’s name — is simply grotesque.

In response to China’s hosting of the Games, the United States and several other nations are staging a diplomatic boycott. My colleague Josh Rogin reports some athletes will boycott the Opening Ceremonies, too. This is all welcome, but it’s hardly sufficient.

A Uyghur living in the United States writes: Ahead of the Olympics, can anyone help me reach my family?

China should never have been able to host the Games, and the international community should have threatened not to participate if the IOC went ahead anyway.

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Freedom House announced this past week that 243 nongovernmental organizations from around the world will boycott the Games. It also called on "athletes and sponsors not to legitimize government abuses,” adding that the IOC has “has not met its responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by carrying out human rights due diligence despite the well-documented abuses in China.”

In addition, the human rights groups are targeting certain sponsors of the Games. Freedom House notes in its statement:

The top corporate sponsors of the Games — Airbnb, Alibaba, Allianz, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Intel, Omega, Panasonic, P&G, Samsung, Toyota, and Visa — have also not fulfilled their human rights due diligence responsibilities. The companies have not provided meaningful public responses to concerns that their sponsorship creates or contributes to human rights violations, or whether they have acted to mitigate those violations. Sponsors should immediately disclose their human rights due diligence strategies, or explain their failure to carry out such assessments.

Congress is planning to hold hearings during the Games to highlight human rights abuses. To her credit, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will make a rare appearance on Thursday to testify before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a session that is designed, as the panel describes it, “to give a platform to voices working on behalf of the abused and repressed in China, including civil society, human rights defenders, the people of Hong Kong, Uyghurs, and Tibetans.”

News networks are also promising to run programming to highlight China’s abuses. Unsurprisingly, NBC, which has broadcast rights for the Games, is trying to have it both ways. Molly Solomon, who heads NBC Olympics Production, issued a lame statement to CNN that concedes "there’s some difficult issues regarding the host nation.” What better PR could a totalitarian regime hope for from a U.S. media outlet?

Athletes have already been warned about the potential for state surveillance. They will need to decide for themselves when and how to express their objections to state tyranny and human rights abuses. Coaches and the media must decide how to respond to attempts to silence them and impinge access to reporters. (Let’s hope some legitimate newsperson has the nerve to ask the athletes about competing in a country infamous for repression.)

And the rest of us? The display of stomach-turning hypocrisy and state propaganda does not strike me as entertaining, so I’ll be following the news programming on China and watching other sporting events. While NBC has already shelled out money for the rights to air the events and corporate sponsors and advertisers have spent millions to promote their products during them, perhaps a significant drop in TV ratings would send a message to all of them: If the IOC awards the Games to monstrous regimes, viewers might flee, rendering them less valuable. We can choose not to encourage such moral travesties.

Josh Rogin: Olympic athletes are getting ready to boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing

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