Calls to boycott next year’s events therefore have to be considered seriously, as we have said. But that’s not the only or even most obvious possible response. Businesses must say no to enriching themselves by contributing to the glorification of an authoritarian state. The Olympics are as much about money as they are about national pride. A coalition of more than 150 human rights groups has started sending letters to the businesses shelling out the most cash to the International Olympic Committee asking them to pull out. They’re right.
Those participating in the elite Olympic Partner Programme — this cycle including Airbnb, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Visa and more of the land of the free’s finest — together fork over at least $1 billion for exclusive marketing rights allowing them to include those five colored rings in commercials. Meanwhile, the State Department found, more than 1 million Uyghurs were imprisoned last year, with some forcibly sterilized, raped and tortured. Another 2 million were given daytime-only “re-education training” intended to rob them of their culture. This week, the Communist Party approved an overhaul of Hong Kong’s election system designed to devastate the opposition and give Chinese authorities near-complete control. On Wednesday, the BBC reported that its award-winning China correspondent had moved to Taiwan under threat from authorities; he is only the latest punished or exiled for honest reporting.
The companies that open their coffers to pepper the proceedings with product promotion and splash their names across skating rinks help give the Games their glitz and glamour. They make the Olympics possible from a practical point of view by bankrolling their flashy features, but they also lend the affair their cachet with consumers. Their endorsement of the Games is effectively an endorsement of China as a global leader, entitled to a worldwide celebration of its achievements and worth — even as it runs concentration camps, crushes dissent at home and abroad and terrorizes journalists, lawyers and anyone else with an independent spirit. These companies alone have the ability to withdraw that endorsement. Without keeping a single athlete from competing, they can use their powerful platforms to repudiate these abuses rather than reward them. They will make a statement at the least, and at the best they could persuade if not China then other countries eager to host to change their conduct.
A simple question must be put to any Western firm affiliating itself with these Games: Why are you sponsoring the Olympics in a country sponsoring a genocide? There is only one good answer: We’ve decided we won’t.