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Opinion: Lack of attention on 2022 Beijing Olympics means lack of spotlight on China's abuses

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You can be forgiven if you’re just now realizing the next Olympics are right around the corner. The Tokyo Games aren’t even a distant memory yet, and much of the world is still in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frankly, the International Olympic Committee and organizers of the Beijing Olympics are probably just fine with this. Less chance of a stink being raised over China’s abysmal record on human rights, its stonewalling of investigations into the source of the coronavirus and its increasing hostility toward Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“In these difficult times we are living through, we see how relevant the overarching mission of the Olympic Games is to unite the world through peaceful competition. The Olympic Games send this message of peace, unity and solidarity, regardless of where they take place,” IOC president Thomas Bach said last month in an open letter to the Olympic movement.

COUNTDOWN: 7 key questions with 100 days to go until the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

“The Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 come at an important moment to bring the world together in the Olympic spirit of peace, solidarity and unity,” he added. “It will once again be the athletes of these Olympic Games that will send this message of the unifying power of sport to the world.”

A supporter makes a gesture with her hands near a countdown clock as it crosses into the 100 days countdown to the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
A supporter makes a gesture with her hands near a countdown clock as it crosses into the 100 days countdown to the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

That statement is, simply, laughable. Any uniting the Olympics does is fleeting, at best. Any change brought is temporary.

You don’t need to look any further than Beijing to see that.

When the IOC awarded the 2008 Olympics to Beijing, it did so with the hope that hosting the Summer Games would lead to an improvement in human rights there. A bid committee official even promised it would.

"We are confident that the games coming to China not only promote our economy but also enhance all social conditions, including education, health and human rights," Wang Wei, who was secretary general of Beijing’s bid committee, said before the Games were awarded in 2001.

We’ve all seen how that went. Conditions actually worsened in the lead-up to the Summer Games in 2008, and have continued to deteriorate.

Twice this year alone, the U.S. State Department has accused the Chinese government of genocide for its treatment of the minority Uyghur population. Amnesty International has accused China of “crimes against humanity,” saying hundreds and thousands of Muslim men and women have been jailed, tortured and forced to give up their religion, culture and language.

The IOC’s response? Crickets. So, too, regarding the crackdowns in Hong Kong and increasing hostility toward Taiwan. Not a word, either, about China’s refusal to provide information that could, definitively, identify the source of the COVID-19 pandemic – which, in theory, could help prevent future outbreaks.

But, please, tell me again how these Games will bring peace and solidarity.

When Bach is called on this pretense, he claims that the IOC is powerless to hold China to account.

“We are not a super world government where the IOC could solve or even address issues for which not a United Nations Security Council, no G7, no G20 has a solution,” he said in March. “This is in the remit of politics.”

Yes, and the IOC is as political as it comes, inserting itself into world affairs when it suits its needs. It was only four years ago that Bach hailed North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as a milestone in peace efforts on the Korean peninsula.

The North Koreans, by the way, are banned from Beijing after skipping Tokyo out of COVID concerns. I guess solidarity only goes so far.

The IOC has leverage with China. Hosting the Games allows China to showcase its wealth, status and power, and organizers and government officials don’t want any kind of rebuke or criticism from the IOC to tarnish its grand spectacle.

But much like its kid-glove treatment of Russia, Bach and the IOC won’t dare. Not when Beijing is hosting the Games the IOC couldn’t give away in Europe, and two Chinese companies – tech giant Alibaba and Mengniu Dairy – are now major Olympic sponsors.

So China will continue to flout the Olympic ideals, and the IOC will continue to ignore it. And if the world doesn’t give much thought to the Beijing Olympics until they begin Feb. 4, all the better.

Cheer the athletes and enjoy the competition, but don’t look too closely at anything else. And never, ever make the mistake of thinking Olympic powerbrokers actually care about the greater good the Games could do.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Beijing Winter Olympics stays out of spotlight, China abuses, too

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