A senior member of the International Olympic Committee has swatted aside suggestions that China should be challenged over its human rights record before the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
IOC Vice President John Coates on Wednesday rejected calls from rights groups and US lawmakers for the IOC to postpone next year’s games and relocate the event unless China ends what the United States has deemed continuing genocide against Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups.
When asked about the treatment of the Uighur minority in China, he said the body has no mandate to act.
“We are not a world government. We have to respect the sovereignty of the countries who are hosting the games,” Coates told an event in his native Australia.
Rights groups believe at least one million Uyghurs and members of other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in the northwestern Xinjiang region. China has denied wrongdoing, saying it has set up vocational training centres to combat “extremism”.
Beijing has also been accused of abusing human rights in Hong Kong.
The IOC and its members choose who hosts the Games and help run the event, and the body styles itself as the “guardian” of the Olympics and aims to “build a better world through sport”.
“The IOC does place a very high emphasis on human rights,” Coates told reporters at a media conference.
“I know it’s a very important part of the fundamental principles of Olympism, the fundamental principles set out in the Olympic charter.
“The IOC’s remit is to ensure that there is no human rights abuses in respect of the conduct of the Games within the National Olympic Committees or within the Olympic movement.
“We have no ability to go into a country and tell them what to do. All we can do is to award the Olympics to a country, under conditions set out in a host contract … and then ensure they are followed.”
US and China trade accusations
The Beijing Winter Olympics take place next February, but there have been calls for sponsors and others to boycott them or to find a way to protest the state of human rights in China.
The United States Congress has grilled five major sponsors – including Visa and Airbnb – accusing them of supporting the alleged genocide of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
In response, Beijing has accused US politicians of “politicising sports” and of slandering China.
Jules Boykoff, a former Olympic-level athlete, author and a professor of political science at the Pacific University in the US, told Al Jazeera that Coates’s remarks on Wednesday reveal the IOC’s selective ethics.
“On one hand, it is the all-powerful entity that can choose where to place the games. On the other hand, it acts as if it cannot do anything,” Boykoff said.
“The reason [for this] is money. They need to keep that money flowing to Olympic coffers.”