In the summer of 2001, shortly after Beijing won the bid for the 2008 summer Olympics, Chinese Minister of Sport Yuan Weimin stated that the Olympics and would bring “progress in human rights causes.” Mr. Yuan was not alone in his unbridled optimism. François Carrard, the Executive Director of the International Olympic Committee, betted that rewarding China with the games would improve its human rights situation: “Bet on the fact that in the coming seven years, openness, progress, and development in many areas will be such that the [human rights] situation will be improved. We are taking the bet that seven years from now we will see many changes.”
In retrospect, it is safe to say that the International Olympic Committee lost its bet. As the games approached, the human rights situation in Beijing actually worsened. According to Human Rights Watch, a sizeable crackdown preceded the Olympic games in the summer of 2008. Notably, hundreds of Beijing residents were forcibly evicted from their homes in order to make room for new sports complexes. Those who protested the evictions faced intimidation, arrest, and imprisonment. Moreover, hundreds of foreign media representatives were harassed and restricted from reporting freely, in violation of China’s Olympic pledge. Furthermore, and perhaps most poignantly, an intense crackdown on “undesirables” preceded the games. Reportedly tens of thousands of people were removed from Beijing, including migrant workers, beggars, and petitioners. Today, the human rights situation in China is even worse than it was in 2008. The past weeks have seen an unprecedented crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists.
Given the history of the 2008 games and the fact that Xi Jinping has recently violated human rights in the name of domestic stability, there is no reason to believe the human rights situation would improve by rewarding Beijing the games in 2022. Betting on Beijing would, once again, prove to be a political victory for a historically duplicitous state and guarantee nothing in terms of human rights improvements.