Polling carried out exclusively for Free Tibet by Survation has found that sports fans who would normally follow events on television will be switching off because of the host countries’ human rights records.
Survey respondents who said they would normally watch the Winter Olympics or Men’s Football World Cup were asked this week if the human rights records of the upcoming hosts of those events – China and Qatar respectively – would affect how much of the events they would watch. A majority of both groups said they would watch less or none of the coverage, with 20% of Winter Olympics fans, and 15% of World Cup fans saying they would switch off completely.
“The fans have spoken – they don’t want the sports they love to be used to whitewash the abuses of genocidal regimes, and they’re willing to switch off if necessary”, said John Jones, Campaigns, Policy and Research Manager at Free Tibet. “The IOC has shown time and again that it cares more about profit than the Olympic spirit, and it will happily play an active part in covering up human rights abuses as it has done with the Chinese government’s silencing of Peng Shaui.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has faced huge criticism since they announced that the Winter Olympics would be held in Beijing in 2022 despite widespread condemnation of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s brutal repression of Tibet, its genocide of Uyghur Muslims, and its attacks on democracy in Hong Kong.
“Fans want more sports bodies to follow the lead of brave organisations like the Women’s Tennis Association and withdraw from countries that don’t share their values”, said John Jones. “For too long the IOC, FIFA and others have taken fan support for granted but fans want to celebrate fair competition and sporting spectacle without a side helping of cynical cash grabs and cover-ups.”
The Olympics have particularly scarring memories for Tibetans whose widespread protests ahead of the last Beijing Olympics in 2008 were met with a vicious crackdown that has continued to this day and resulted in Tibet being named the least free country in the world by Freedom House.
The IOC has repeatedly said that the human rights of a country should not matter when deciding where to host the Olympics but fans disagree, with thousands supporting calls for a boycott and successfully pressuring governments around the world, including the UK, to not send officials to Beijing for the Games.
The news will come as a shock to broadcasters like the BBC, Discovery and ITV who have invested heavily for the rights to show the events, as well as to the advertisers and sponsors who hand over millions to be associated with the events and their coverage.
Younger viewers are even more concerned than older ones with 28% of 18-34-year-olds saying they’ll watch no Olympics coverage, and an additional 46% saying they’ll watch less than normal. Scottish fans and those in London are also more likely to avoid watching with 64% and 67% respectively saying they’ll watch less.
Free Tibet and other members of the No Beijing 2022 campaigning coalition are coordinating the #IWillNotWatch campaign to encourage fans to pledge not to watch the Games, and to give them ideas for alternatives such as winter sports-related films and documentaries about Tibet and human rights. Fans can visit our campaign page here to sign the pledge.