Threats to Athletes, Human Rights Crimes Define Beijing Games

Sponsors, NBC Should Stand with Athletes and Against Repression

Joint Statement 
02 February, 2022
Contact: World Uyghur Congress
0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

Threats to Athletes, Human Rights Crimes Define Beijing Games

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.


Alberta Uyghur Association

Amigos del Tíbet – Colombia

AREF international Onlus

Army of Survivors

Asociación Cultural Tibetano-Costarricense

Association France Tibet

Athlete Ally

Australia Tibet Council

Australian East Turkestan Association

Australian Uyghur Association

Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association

Austria Uyghur Association

Baltic Tibet group

Bath District Tibet Support Group

Bay Area Friends of Tibet

Belgium Uyghur Association

Blue Crescent Humanitarian Aid Association

Campaign for Uyghurs


Chinese Human Rights Defenders

Citizen Power Initiatives for China – 公民力量

Dutch Uyghur Human Rights Foundation

East Turkistan Association in Finland

East Turkistan Association of Canada

East Turkistan Education and Solidarity Association

East Turkistan Entrepreneur Tradesmen and Industrialists Businessmen Association

East Turkistan Human Rights Watch

East Turkistan New Generation Movement

East Turkistan Nuzugum Culture and Family Association

East Turkestan Press and Media Association

East Turkistan Sports and Development Association

East Turkistan Union in Europe

East Turkestan Union of Muslim Scholars

Eastern Turkistan Foundation

Étudiant pour Tibet Libre

Equality League

European East Turkistan Education Association

Finnish Uyghur Culture Center

Free Indo-Pacific Alliance

Free Tibet

Free Tibet Fukuoka

Freedom House

Friends of Tibet Bulgaria

Fundación Casa del Tibet

Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities

Global Athlete

Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete-Portugal

Hong Kong Democracy Council

Hong Kong Committee in Norway

Ilham Tohti Initiative

Indonesia Save Uyghur

International Campaign for Tibet

International Pen Uyghur Center

International Society for Human Rights

International Support for Uyghurs

International Tibet Network

International Union of East Turkistan Organizations

International Uyghur Human Right and Democracy Foundation

Isa Yusup Alptekin Foundation

Islamic Community Milli Gorus

ISHR – Sweden

Japan Uyghur Association

Jewish Movement for Uyghur Freedom

Latvia for Tibet

Norwegian Uyghur Committee


Omer Uygur Foundation

Pema Choden

Power of Sport Lab / Athletes for Human Rights

Santa Barbara Friends of Tibet

Satuq Bugrakhan Foundation of Science and Civilization

Society for Threatened Peoples

Society Union of Uyghur National Association

South Mongolia Congress

Stop Uyghur Genocide Canada

Stand With Hong Kong Vienna

Students for a Free Tibet

Students for a Free Tibet -Denmark

Sweden Uyghur Education Union

Swedish Tibet Committee

Swiss Tibetan Friendship Association

Switzerland East Turkestan Association

Taiwan East Turkestan Association

The Campaign for Hong Kong

The Norwegian Tibet Committee

The Tibet Support Committee, Denmark

Tibet Initiative Deutschland

Tibet Justice Center

Tibet Mx

Tibet Rescue Initiative in Africa

Tibet Solidarity

Tibet Support Groep Nederland

Tibetan Community Switzerland and Liechtenstein

Tibetan Community of Australia

Tibetan Community in Britain

Tibetan Youth Association in Europe

Den norske Tibet-komité

US Tibet Committee

Uigur Society of the Kyrgyz Republic

Umer Uyghur Trust


Uyghur American Association

Uyghur Academy Australia

Uyghur Academy Canada

Uyghur Academy Europe

Uyghur Academy Foundation

Uyghur Academy Japan

Uyghur Academy USA

Uyghur Association of Victoria

Uyghur Center for Human Rights and Democracy

Uyghur Cultural and Education Union in Germany

Uyghur Education Union

Uyghur Human Rights Project

Uyghur Projects Foundation

Uyghur Refugee Relief Fund

Uyghur Research Institute

Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project

Uyghur Science and Civilization Research Foundation

Uyghur Support Group Netherlands

Uyghur Transitional Justice Database

Uyghur U.K. Association

Uyghur Youth Union in Kazakhstan

Uzbekistan Uyghur Culture Center

Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement

Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

Victoria Uyghur Association

Voces de Tíbet

We The Hongkongers

World Uyghur Congress

World Uyghur Congress Foundation


Media Contacts:

Rob Koehler, Global Athlete, [email protected] 

Omer Kanat, Uyghur Human Rights Project, [email protected]

Zumretay Arkin, World Uyghur Congress, [email protected] 

Pema Doma, Students for a Free Tibet, [email protected]

Bennett Freeman, [email protected]

William Nee, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, [email protected]