In July 2001, the world was stunned when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made the shocking decision to award the 2008 Summer Olympics to Beijing. A decision that has only become more controversial with time.
Human rights groups and experts criticised the decision made by the IOC. In response, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made vague but ambitious claims that it would improve its human rights record. These claims were backed up by vocal support from the IOC, keen to defend its controversial decision.
“By allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help the development of human rights. China and the outside world need to integrate. China’s opening-up is irreversible. The Olympic Games is a good opportunity to promote understanding.”
- Liu Jingmin, Executive Vice President of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games, April 2001
“Some people say, because of serious human rights issues, ‘We close the door and say no’? The other way is to bet on openness. Bet on the fact that in the coming seven years, openness, progress and development in many areas will be such that the situation will be improved.”
- François Carrard, Executive Director of the IOC, July 2001
In practice, the CCP used the legitimacy the Games gave them to expand their policies of oppression, not least in Tibet.
The Tibetan uprising and the subsequent crackdown
On 10 March 2008, hundreds of monks took to the streets in the capital city of Tibet, Lhasa, and peacefully protested against the Chinese repression. A wave of at least 125 non-violent protests quickly spread across the Tibetan plateau. The protestors were Tibetans from all walks of life: students, monks, nuns, nomads and elderly people, united in their opposition to the occupation of their country.
The largely non-violent protests were brutally suppressed. Thousands of Tibetans were detained after the protest. Reports also soon established that at least 100 were killed in and around Lhasa and 40 were shot dead or died from police violence in other Tibetan areas. Hundreds of the detainees were tortured and profoundly psychologically disturbed upon release, with some unable to walk or speak.
Tibet was then virtually sealed off from the world to hide these atrocities for months. Tibet would never be the same again.
Tibet has only become more repressive since the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
In response to the 2008 Tibetan uprising, the CCP has only furthered its repression in Tibet since 2008 and has almost completely closed it off from the world.
Tibet has since been transformed into one of the most closed and repressive places in the world, a giant prison from which most Tibetans cannot leave. Meanwhile, journalists, human rights organisations, United Nations experts and diplomats are all prevented from travelling to Tibet to monitor human rights abuses first hand.
But Tibetans have continued to resist where possible, sometimes to extreme measures. Since 2009, at least 159 Tibetans have carried out self-immolation protests displaying their anguish at the CCP’s actions.
The hopes that the games would help China to become more open, the firm commitments from Chinese officials on human rights and the assurances that the 2008 Beijing Olympics would be a force for good now ring hollow.
Tell the British Olympic Association to boycott Beijing 2022.