Olympic Games, Marginalized Community, and Curling Games. (Part One)


April 16th, 2021

Courtesy of the Omaha Sports Commission

OMAHA – The Uyghurs are an ethnic Muslim minority in Northwest China. The people have rich culture and traditions in how they celebrate weddings, funerals, and the birth of children.

They also have their own unique food. Their dishes often contain lamb or mutton, such as the dish Laghman, made with hand-pulled noodles and served with lamb, vegetables and a spicy sauce.

They have their own distinct culture and history, and right now it is all at risk, due to China’s continued efforts to silence and eliminate the minority group.

According to recent UN reports, at least 1 million Uyghurs have been interned since 2017, in more than 85 identified concentration camps.

China’s reasoning for this behavior is claiming that the minority group teaches and practices extremist views and is thus a threat to security. They long denied the existence of the camps, and the government has referred to them as “re-education centers.”

In these camps, the Uyghurs are not only being detained for their religion, but they are being beaten and forced to work. Many well-known American companies such as Nike and H&M have been accused of benefitting from this forced labor.

So what can people do about this? Peter Irwin, the Senior Program Officer for Advocacy & Communications at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, stressed that the most important first step is simply to listen.

“Generally speaking, you have to educate yourself with what is happening, and I think if you educate yourself properly you should understand what you should be doing.”

While signing petitions may seem insignificant, Irwin says not to underestimate their power.

Peter Irwin, the Senior Program Officer for Advocacy & Communications at the Uyghur Human Rights Project

“My campaign called no rights no games has 270,000 signatures pushing back on what the IOC is doing. The purpose of that is to be able to show the IOC, “hey, we’ve got half a million people who are saying that you should not be holding the Olympic games in China.” People pay attention to that,” Irwin said.

“No rights no games” refers to the ongoing campaign by activists calling for the International Olympic Committee to ensure that the internment camps are closed before China hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Given the fact that Omaha hosts the Olympic curling trials in November this year, should Omahans be boycotting that event?

Rather than a full boycott, the group is calling for a diplomatic boycott of the games because they see them as a point of leverage in the region. While the IOC has not been responsive to their requests, they still have other options open.

“National Olympic committee for example, there’s sponsors, there’s broadcasters,” Irwin said. “NBC is the single largest financial contributor to the IOC. If they wanted to, they could say “We’re facing reputational risk here when we are filming an Olympics when a genocide is happening.””

“We’re not going to be in a position to be encouraging athletes to protest. One of the considerations is they might be detained in China” Irwin said. “If an athlete wants to take to a podium and take their shirt off and they’re wearing something that says “free Uyghurs,” it’s going to be against the IOC rules. So what’s the implication? What is the result? What is the Chinese government going to do?”

With the problems arising from the games, that leads to the question should consumers boycott watching the Olympics? Irwin doesn’t think this is necessary, but encourages other actions to speak out on behalf of the Uyghurs.

“As a Canadian, I could see Canadians watching the games while at the same time pushing the government to say and do things surrounding the games,” Irwin said. “They maybe don’t send any high-level diplomats and make sure it’s clear during the games themselves that you don’t agree with what the government’s doing; you condemn it.”

Join us next week, when we highlight the problems of academic freedom for the Uyghurs through the story of Akida Pulati, whose mother, a professor in China, has been interned in the camps since 2017.

Music: “Asqar Muxta” by Adiljan Mentimin

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