Seb Coe calls boycott of UK Winter Olympics “meaningless” as he opens up on Peng Shuai
Boris Johnson confirmed in December that the UK will join the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada in a political boycott of the February Winter Olympics in Beijing.
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World Athletics President Seb Coe has criticized UK plans to politically boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics, calling such acts “frankly meaningless” and “intellectually dishonest”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed in early December that the UK would join other Western powers such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada in refusing to send officials to Beijing in February.
The decision came amid uncertainty over the freedom and autonomy of tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in early November.
Tennis and outside governing bodies have not been fully satisfied with the safety of the 35-year-old despite video link contacts in recent weeks, raising concerns over China’s rights record of man.
But in his most direct speech on the matter to date, Coe, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, spoke out against boycotts as a means of bringing about change.
“I am neither carefree nor cavalier about human rights, I take them very seriously,” he said. “But we have to be realistic, when we organize our events around the world, there are going to be challenges: culturally, politically, socially.
Seb Coe called Britain’s political boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics – in response to the Peng Shuai controversy – “frankly meaningless” (
“I guess my fallacious position on this is still, in an imperfect world, that sport is the only continuum that can really create some stability. I’ve witnessed time and time again the impact that sport has had. by activating this dial, socially, politically, economically. “
China has been accused of forcibly detaining more than a million Uyghurs in re-education camps based in Xinjiang, many of whom have reportedly been sterilized.
US President Joe Biden signed a bill last week to ban imports of all goods produced by ethnic Uyghurs living in internment camps in China.
Among the large Western countries which are expected to abstain from the next Winter Games, only the United States (1932) and Canada (2010) have climbed to the top of the medal rankings.
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Peng Shuai spoke with the IOC by video call, but this is not considered sufficient proof of his safety for the WTA to be satisfied. (
OIS / IOC / AFP via Getty Images)
The aim is that the absence of some countries helps raise awareness of Peng’s plight and China’s questionable human rights record, although Coe disagrees that this is the final result.
Regarding the prospect of a boycott, he decried: “On the whole, boycotts are historically illiterate and intellectually dishonest.
“A political boycott is, frankly, meaningless. And in a world where I really think discussion and relationships are important, I rarely see isolation paying off.
“But this is not to praise countries that do not conform to basic human rights standards. I have never seen sport leave a country in a worse state than when it was there. The impact at all levels can, on many occasions, be quite profound. “
Boris Johnson joined other Western leaders in boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics (
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in December announced plans to suspend all competitions in China for the foreseeable future, but the International Tennis Federation (ITF) refused to follow suit.
ITF president David Haggerty insisted the sport’s governing body was “pro-women’s rights” but defended the position, saying it “did not” want to punish a billion people “because of Peng’s situation.
The 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled to kick off in Beijing on February 4.