SYRACUSE — U.S. Rep. John Katko wants the United States to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, writing this week to President Joe Biden that participation would be “antithetical” to American values.
In a letter to Biden dated Feb. 22, the Camillus Republican accused the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of “openly committing genocide” against minority ethnic and religious groups. That disturbing assessment is based, Katko said, on a January 2021 Department of State report specifically concerning China’s Uyghur Muslim population and steps the government has taken.
“This (Department of State report details) an exhaustive investigation and cites a number of ongoing and heinous crimes,” Katko wrote to Biden, giving such examples as “arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians” and even more damning claims of “forced sterilization, torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detailed and forced labor.”
After Katko’s landslide re-election victory in November, the four-term Congressman sought and was named to several committee leadership roles including as ranking Republican on the powerful Committee on Homeland Security. Katko began the 117th Congress in January as one of 10 GOP members to vote for the impeachment of then-President Donald Trump but has since been highly critical of the Biden administration, especially on issues of border security and Iran foreign policy.
Ethnic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz individuals are also persecuted minorities in the Xinjian Province, Katko said in his letter, citing the same Department of State report. The Chinese government has “facilitated the mass transfer of Uyghurs and others… to factories across China, including under conditions of forced or involuntary labor.”
“Mr. President, the evidence is clear — the CCP is deliberately and systematically working to eliminate an entire population within its own borders,” Katko continued. “In doing so, it expects the rest of the world to be silent and, in the case of business operations and global supply chains, complicit in these actions. The United States simply cannot in good faith participate in an Olympiad in a country that is committing genocide and continuously attempts to manipulate and lie to the global community about such atrocities.”
Katko is no recent entrant into politics of sports, beginning early on skates as a native central New Yorkers and with frequent appearances (and one MVP trophy) in the annual Congressional charity hockey game. In February 2020, Katko recognized the 40th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice” when the United States defeated the Soviet Union in the semi-finals at the 1980 Lake Placid games before beating Finland for the gold medal.
“This underdog story remains a proud and iconic moment for this team, the sport of hockey and our nation,” Katko wrote in a social media post.
He closed his letter to the White House by noting the Olympics’ ability to transcend sports, and invoked historic words to place his request in context.
“Before the eyes of the world descend upon China in 2022, I urge you to take action by working with our partners and allies to lead the free nations of the planet in a unified movement to hold this honored contest amongst nations in a country that actually lives up to the values of the Olympic Charter, ‘...to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.’”
Political boycotts of Olympic games stretch back more than 60 years. In 1956, a coalition of Arab nations and allies sent no athletes to the summer games in Melbourne, Australia in response to the Suez Crisis. Those same games, Switzerland, Spain and the Netherlands boycotted due to anti-democracy shows of force in Hungary by the Soviet Union. The United States last boycotted an Olympiad during the summer games of 1980 in Moscow, along with more than 50 other nations to protest the invasion of Afghanistan. In retaliation, the USSR boycotted the 1984 games in Los Angeles.