February 9, 2022 - 9:41 am

India’s diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

India on Thursday announced a diplomatic ban on the Beijing Winter Olympics after Beijing decided to have Qi Fabao, a PLA regiment commander who sustained head injury while fighting in the Galwan Valley border skirmish with India, as torchbearer during the ‘Torch Relay’. The venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics has been hit by a flurry of diplomatic boycotts from countries including the US, Australia, and Britain, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, and the Netherlands because of widespread allegations of Chinese atrocities against the Uyghur community. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan are in Beijing for the Games. Following the official move, India's public broadcaster Doordarshan also announced it will not telecast the opening and closing ceremonies live. The country has one athlete competing this year, alpine skier Arif Khan. Diplomatic boycotts mean that governments will not send delegations, but athletes continue to compete in the Games. 

The Olympics are now are a billion dollar enterprise, and a total boycott would cost broadcasters and organisers, as well as athletes, very large sums of money. In the US, NBC pays billions of dollars to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to show the Games, and non-participation by star American athletes would impact revenues. A diplomatic boycott by contrast is a very visible but low-cost option —a snub that makes a political point with no major financial costs attached. Doordarshan’s decision to not telecast the opening and closing ceremonies will, however, impact the event's TRP, and could have financial implications as well. None of the major sponsors or broadcasters have pulled out. 

The Ministry of External Affairs announced on Thursday that the Charge d' Affaires of the Indian Embassy in Beijing would not attend the opening or closing Ceremonies following the “regrettable” decision by China to pick a soldier involved in the Galwan clash of June 2020 to be a Games torchbearer. “It is indeed regrettable that the Chinese side has chosen to politicize an event like the Olympics, ”MEA official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said. The Western countries, led by the US, have chosen to deliver a snub to China over its “egregious” abuses of human rights, including against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. The US, Australia, and Germany have also cited the alleged sexual abuse and mistreatment of Peng Shuai, a top ranked Chinese tennis player, who posted on social media accusing a high ranking member of the communist party, Zhang Gaoli, of sexually assaulting her. Some countries like Austria, New Zealand, Slovenia, Sweden, and the Netherlands have cited pandemic-related risks for not sending government officials. France’s President Emmanuel Macron has been quoted as saying the Olympics should not be politicised. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson had accused the countries that had announced the diplomatic boycott of using “the Olympics platform for political manipulation”, and warned “they will have to pay the price”.

    China’s decision to field him and New Delhi’s announcement of its first ever political boycott of Olympic games, are likely to increase India-China tensions that have risen since PLA aggressions along the Line of Actual Control began in April 2020. India had earlier expressed support for the Beijing Olympics, even as more than a dozen countries, led by the United States, had announced a boycott of the games. The underlying message is that the successful holding of the games amid the pandemic is another example of the superiority of the Chinese political model, which has been highlighted as a sharp contrast especially with how the U.S. handled the pandemic. What is certain is that while it was not the athletes' choice to select Beijing to host the Games, as geopolitical tensions rise, they are the ones now facing renewed questions about whether it is right to compete there, and left to decide what they should do once they arrive.