Threats to Athletes, Human Rights Crimes Define Beijing Games

Image Joint Olympic Statement_2022-02-02

Sponsors, NBC Should Stand with Athletes and Against Repression

(Washington DC, February 2, 2022) – A coalition of athletes and human rights groups is calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and The Olympic Partner (TOP) Olympic sponsors to ensure athletes’ free expression is guaranteed during the Beijing Winter Games. The 2022 Beijing Games officially launch on February 4 against a backdrop of Chinese government atrocity crimes targeting Uyghur Muslims and other Turkic communities, and harsh repression in Tibet, Hong Kong, and on the mainland.

“Sponsors of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games cannot pretend that these Olympics are business as usual,” said Rob Koehler, director of Global Athlete, an athletes’ rights advocacy group. “Corporate sponsors say that their sponsorship is to support the athletes. Meanwhile athletes are heading into a hazardous working environment in China, with few protections for free speech and no rights to protest crimes against humanity as they may want to do. Sponsors have the responsibility to insist on games hosts that uphold—not trample—human rights.”

Recent remarks by a high-ranking Beijing Organizing Committee member are a thinly veiled threat targeting athletes who could speak out about such abuses: “Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment.”

“It’s very troubling that the IOC has been so willing to get in line with the Chinese government’s own approach to silencing critics,” said Uyghur Human Rights Project Executive Director, Omer Kanat.

The IOC has committed to allow athlete expression during the Olympic Games, including during press conferences and through social and traditional media, but IOC Guidelines state that protest or demonstration must “comply with local legislation.” The IOC has an obligation to uphold speech rights of Olympic athletes and ensure that none are subject to reprisals for exercising those rights. 

“Athletes should not have to be scared for their safety when they go to China,” said Noah Hoffman, two-time Olympian skier and board member of Global Athlete. “It is completely unacceptable that athletes have to censor themselves on human rights and other topics—in order to keep from being censored or sent home by the Chinese government, the Olympic host.” 

“Olympics stakeholders must uphold human rights during the Games, which includes athletes’ freedom of speech,” said Zumretay Arkin, Program & Advocacy Manager at the World Uyghur Congress. “Athletes who want to show solidarity with Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hong Kongers should be applauded, not punished.”

“Athletes are already at risk of being used as propaganda during China’s Olympics, and now they risk losing their freedom of speech and protest as well,” said Pema Doma, Campaigns Director for Students for a Free Tibet.

“The IOC’s integrity and indeed its legitimacy as an international organization will be tested by its reaction to such threats,” said Bennett Freeman, member of the Steering Committee of the Coalition to End Uyghur Forced Labor and former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Gold medal Olympic skier Mikaela Shiffrin has said she should not have to choose between her “morals” and her “job” to compete in China. Basketball player Enes Kanter spoke out about repression of religious and other freedoms in Tibet. Two-time Olympic cross-country skier and former Team USA athlete Noah Hoffman said of his former teammates, “I am scared for their safety when they go to China.”

“The Olympic Partner” sponsors including Coca-Cola, Samsung, and Airbnb regularly profess their support for them. However, to demonstrate meaningful support, sponsors must be prepared to push back on the Beijing organizers’ threats, and back athletes if they are subject to reprisals or intimidation. The failure to support athletes in such circumstances makes the sponsors—along with the IOC—complicit with the Beijing Organizing Committee and the Chinese government in human rights abuses.

Finally, NBC Universal—the exclusive broadcaster of the Beijing Games in the United States—must ensure that any athlete protests related to the human rights situation in China are free from censorship. NBC’s journalistic integrity will be judged by audiences and advertisers watching to ensure that it fully covers the repressive human rights climate in China, and does not participate in promoting propaganda from the Chinese government.

“Freedom of expression is an important human right under international law, but Chinese human rights defenders are routinely put in prison for merely expressing their views. The IOC and governments must be ready to protect athletes who could become victims of the Chinese government’s retaliation,” said William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders.


  1. Alberta Uyghur Association
  2. Amigos del Tíbet – Colombia
  3. AREF international Onlus
  4. Army of Survivors
  5. Asociación Cultural Tibetano-Costarricense
  6. Association France Tibet
  7. Athlete Ally
  8. Australia Tibet Council
  9. Australian East Turkestan Association
  10. Australian Uyghur Association
  11. Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association
  12. Austria Uyghur Association
  13. Baltic Tibet group
  14. Bath District Tibet Support Group
  15. Bay Area Friends of Tibet
  16. Belgium Uyghur Association
  17. Blue Crescent Humanitarian Aid Association
  18. Campaign for Uyghurs
  19. ChinaAid
  20. Chinese Human Rights Defenders
  21. Citizen Power Initiatives for China – 公民力量
  22. Dutch Uyghur Human Rights Foundation
  23. East Turkistan Association in Finland
  24. East Turkistan Association of Canada
  25. East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association
  26. East Turkistan Entrepreneur Tradesmen and Industrialists Businessmen Association
  27. East Turkistan Human Rights Watch
  28. East Turkistan New Generation Movement
  29. East Turkistan Nuzugum Culture and Family Association
  30. East Turkestan Press and Media Association
  31. East Turkistan Sports and Development Association
  32. East Turkistan Union in Europe
  33. East Turkestan Union of Muslim Scholars
  34. Eastern Turkistan Foundation
  35. Étudiant pour Tibet Libre
  36. Equality League
  37. European East Turkistan Education Association
  38. Finnish Uyghur Culture Center
  39. Free Indo-Pacific Alliance
  40. Free Tibet
  41. Free Tibet Fukuoka
  42. Freedom House
  43. Friends of Tibet Bulgaria
  44. Fundación Casa del Tibet
  45. Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities
  46. Global Athlete
  47. Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete-Portugal
  48. Hong Kong Democracy Council
  49. Hong Kong Committee in Norway
  50. Human Rights in China (HRIC)
  51. Ilham Tohti Initiative
  52. Indonesia Save Uyghur
  53. International Campaign for Tibet
  54. International Pen Uyghur Center
  55. International Society for Human Rights
  56. International Support for Uyghurs
  57. International Tibet Network
  58. International Union of East Turkistan Organizations
  59. International Uyghur Human Right and Democracy Foundation
  60. Isa Yusup Alptekin Foundation
  61. Islamic Community Milli Gorus
  62. ISHR – Sweden
  63. Japan Uyghur Association
  64. Jewish Movement for Uyghur Freedom
  65. Latvia for Tibet
  66. Norwegian Uyghur Committee
  67. NY4HK
  68. Omer Uygur Foundation
  69. Pema Choden
  70. PEN America
  71. Power of Sport Lab / Athletes for Human Rights
  72. Santa Barbara Friends of Tibet
  73. Satuq Bugrakhan Foundation of Science and Civilization
  74. Society for Threatened Peoples
  75. Society Union of Uyghur National Association
  76. South Mongolia Congress
  77. Stop Uyghur Genocide Canada
  78. Stand With Hong Kong Vienna
  79. Students for a Free Tibet
  80. Students for a Free Tibet -Denmark
  81. Sweden Uyghur Education Union
  82. Swedish Tibet Committee
  83. Swiss Tibetan Friendship Association
  84. Switzerland East Turkestan Association
  85. Taiwan East Turkestan Association
  86. The Campaign for Hong Kong
  87. The Norwegian Tibet Committee
  88. The Tibet Support Committee, Denmark
  89. Tibet Action Institute
  90. Tibet Initiative Deutschland
  91. Tibet Justice Center
  92. Tibet Mx
  93. Tibet Rescue Initiative in Africa
  94. Tibet Solidarity
  95. Tibet Support Groep Nederland
  96. Tibetan Community Switzerland and Liechtenstein
  97. Tibetan Community of Australia
  98. Tibetan Community in Britain
  99. Tibetan Youth Association in Europe
  100. Den norske Tibet-komité
  101. US Tibet Committee
  102. Uigur Society of the Kyrgyz Republic
  103. Umer Uyghur Trust
  104. USTC
  105. Uyghur American Association
  106. Uyghur Academy Australia
  107. Uyghur Academy Canada
  108. Uyghur Academy Europe
  109. Uyghur Academy Foundation
  110. Uyghur Academy Japan
  111. Uyghur Academy USA
  112. Uyghur Association of Victoria
  113. Uyghur Center for Human Rights and Democracy
  114. Uyghur Cultural and Education Union in Germany
  115. Uyghur Education Union
  116. Uyghur Human Rights Project
  117. Uyghur Projects Foundation
  118. Uyghur Refugee Relief Fund
  119. Uyghur Research Institute
  120. Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project
  121. Uyghur Science and Civilization Research Foundation
  122. Uyghur Support Group Netherlands
  123. Uyghur Transitional Justice Database
  124. Uyghur U.K. Association
  125. Uyghur Youth Union in Kazakhstan
  126. Uzbekistan Uyghur Culture Center
  127. Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement
  128. Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
  129. Victoria Uyghur Association
  130. Voces de Tíbet
  131. We The Hongkongers
  132. World Uyghur Congress
  133. World Uyghur Congress Foundation

Media Contacts:

  • Rob Koehler, Global Athlete, 
  • Omer Kanat, Uyghur Human Rights Project,
  • Zumretay Arkin, World Uyghur Congress, 
  • Pema Doma, Students for a Free Tibet,
  • Bennett Freeman,
  • William Nee, Chinese Human Rights Defenders,