In a little over six months’ time, a global spotlight will fall on Beijing as the city plays host to the 2022 Winter Olympics. These Games should be a celebration of sporting achievement and a powerful symbol of our shared humanity. Instead, next year’s event will take place under a dark shadow.
There is now an extensive and undeniable body of evidence pointing to the systemic persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang Province. Mass detention of more than a million people; first-hand accounts of forced labour camps and harrowing reports of forced sterilisation. In April, it was this evidence that led the House of Commons to determine that genocide was being committed against the Uyghur people.
There are some who would argue that politics and sport should remain separate. But from NFL star Colin Kaepernick taking the knee to Marcus Rashford shaming the UK government into U-turning over free school meals, to the England football speaking out against dog-whistle politics, we have seen that some issues transcend this divide.
The Games have become a symbol of our global interconnectedness, bringing together athletes from across the world to compete under the core Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship. At their best, they are a testament to sport’s ability to bridge divisions of culture, language, geography and race.
And while many sportspeople have chosen to use their platform to show solidarity with or amplify the message of causes and movements, it would be wrong to expect them to sacrifice years of hard work and dedication to compensate for our own government’s inaction. Nor would calling for the cancellation of the 2022 Games be fair on the Chinese people, who are not responsible for the atrocities committed by their government.
The UK has rightly supported calls from the United Nations for unfettered access to Xinjiang in order to conduct a full investigation. But as so often is the case with this Tory government, strong rhetoric is yet to be matched with meaningful action. It is the responsibility of the UK government to ensure a clear signal is sent to the Chinese authorities that we will not remain silent as these atrocities are committed against the Uyghur people.
On the assumption that access to Xinjiang will not been granted by the 14th September – the start of the next United Nations General Assembly – Labour has called for a political boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. We believe that no member of the Royal Family, UK politician or senior official should be put in a position where they are only serving to legitimise attempts by the Chinese government to whitewash the appalling genocide taking place within its borders.
Today’s debate in parliament is an opportunity for British politicians to take a clear and unambiguous stance. The chance to send a message about the kind of country we are – one that stands against genocide and for human rights. If Global Britain means anything, it should mean upholding our values and defending human rights, no matter where in the world they are under threat. Next year’s Winter Olympics will be an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to those principles and to stand in solidarity with the Uyghur people – we must not waste it.