The Biden administration said on Tuesday that it was considering a joint boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, amid calls from lawmakers and advocacy groups to back away from the Games because of alleged human rights violations in China.
A boycott by the US in coordination with Washington’s allies “is something that we certainly wish to discuss,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, adding that discussions on the matter “are under way”.
“A coordinated approach will be not only in our interests but also in the interests of our allies and partners,” he said.
Calls for a boycott are driven by concerns over China’s Xinjiang region, where human rights groups cite United Nations reports and witness accounts that as many as 1 million Uygurs and others from Muslim minority groups are held in “re-education camps”. The reports allege that detainees face indoctrination, torture and forced labour.
Joining scores of advocacy groups including the World Uygur Congress and the US Tibet Committee, US Republican Senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney called for an economic and diplomatic boycott by US delegates, corporations and tourists in a column in The New York Times on March 15.
However, Romney - who had overseen the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah - expressly did not call for US athletes to forego competing at the Beijing Games.
Price cautioned that the 2022 Olympics games – scheduled for next February – “remain some time away”, and that he “wouldn’t want to put a time frame” on when a decision might be reached.
The US Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Price’s remarks.
Price gave no further details about talks with allies about the Olympics, although he referred to sanctions that the US enacted jointly last month with Britain, Canada and the European Union over the human rights abuses.
Also on Tuesday, Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, called on President Joe Biden to demand the relocation of the 2022 Olympics to the US.
“It is ... time for President Biden to lead America and the world and make clear that the United States will never tolerate the oppression and genocide occurring in Communist China,” Scott said.
It was unclear how Biden would accomplish that; the games are awarded by the International Olympic Committee, a non-governmental organisation based in Switzerland.
Scott, one of Washington’s most vocal China hawks, called Biden hypocritical for supporting a decision by Major League Baseball last week to move its All-Star Game out of Georgia in response to the state’s newly passed voting law, but not take a stand on the Olympics.
“General Secretary [Xi Jinping’s] atrocious acts can’t be ignored and Communist China can’t be allowed to whitewash its crimes on an international stage,” Scott said. “President Biden has immense power to help facilitate the relocation of the games, which I have urged him to do.”