Boycott the Olympics? How about sending a new team of athletes instead?

This column is an opinion of Michael Luba, a criminal lawyer in Ottawa. For more information on the CBC Opinion section, please see the FAQs.

The question of whether to boycott Beijing 2022 – and if so, how – has loomed over the Games for years, with increasingly strong calls to action in recent months and weeks. The crescendo seemed to come to a head when several countries, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Canada, announced that they would pursue a diplomatic boycott this february.

The diplomatic boycott move appears to have been an attempt to respond to competing interests in the polarized boycott debate.

Supporters and opponents of the boycott framed the debate around two issues – support for athletes and support for human rights – and led us to believe that countries must choose one or the other. It’s wrong. There is another option for those who wish to defend human rights without abandoning the athletes who have worked for years for this Olympic moment. The solution is simple and has a historical precedent. It would put human rights in the spotlight throughout the Games and embody the Olympic spirit beautifully.

Rather than pursuing an all-or-nothing strategy, countries wishing to recognize the unique challenge of these Games might refuse to send a national team, but nonetheless reorient their budgets and free their athletes to compete in a new one. human rights team. . Among many options, they could call it the Olympic Athletes’ Team for Human Rights.

It’s already arrived

This team could even host worried athletes who are unhappy with their home country’s plans to compete as usual. In other words, the team would be open to anyone who wants to campaign for human rights, but doesn’t want to sacrifice perhaps the greatest moments of their athletic career.

While creating such a team may seem impossible, it has happened before.

In 2018, in a spirit of international cooperation, the Koreas entered into a unified hockey team to compete in Pyeongchang. At the same Games, following the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee for the Russian doping scandal, the International Olympic Committee has created a new team called the Russian Olympic athletes. This team competed under the Olympic flag, as did the Unified team had done in 1992, bringing together athletes from new countries that had not yet organized Olympic committees following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Finally, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 saw the participation of Refugee Olympic Team, which allowed refugee athletes identified by National Olympic Committees to compete under the Olympic flag.

The trend in all of these examples is clear. Where there is an identifiable international problem and a comprehensive and cooperative desire to resolve it through the harmonizing power of sport, the international community is able to endorse creative solutions. Beijing 2022 should be no different.

A powerful message

The size of the Olympic human rights team is impossible to predict, but whatever its size it would represent the best of the international sports movement. Every medal won would not be won for a country, but rather for human rights. If the team were big enough, human rights would parade the opening and closing ceremonies and featured in almost every event. Human rights would almost certainly get on the podium and could even end up winning the most medals of any team at the Games. From February 4 to 20, 2022, all eyes will be on human rights. It would send a powerful message of unity and respect.

This idea stands up to all the usual criticisms of the boycott debate.

Some might say that will not stop the alleged abuses by the Chinese government. Who Said You Have To? It is perfectly okay to protest just to show opposition, whether something changes or not.

Others say the policy violates the Olympic spirit. What a pity. Sport is political, like everything else, and those who attempt to separate sport from politics are simply asserting a political opinion in favor of the status quo. The status quo in this case: putting prestige and profits before alleged human rights violations.

The Olympic Human Rights Team has made it clear that while the global community celebrates sport, it is also willing to take a stand for human rights on one of the biggest stages of the world.

It is an easy victory for the Olympic movement and for sport in general. So now the big question: who is going to get there?

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