The International Olympic Committee must learn from its mistake in proceeding with the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, says CJ Werleman.

As early as 1922, Adolf Hitler signalled his desire to rid Germany and the European continent of the Jewish people, telling a journalist: “Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews”. Eleven years later, he and the Nazi Party seized control of the country, but the “Final Solution” – the mass extermination of the Jews – would not begin until the summer of 1941.

Exactly five years before the Einsatzgruppen began shooting Jewish women, children, and men – hastily digging ditches located well behind the lines of fighting between the Wehrmacht and Soviet forces during Operation Barbarossa – Nazi Germany hosted the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin.

Although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the games to Germany in 1931 – two years prior to the Nazi Party putting an end to the Weimar Republic – Hitler’s evil intent was no secret when the world’s biggest sporting event got underway five years later. In fact, the official Nazi newspaper Volkischer Beobachter declared, in no uncertain terms, that Jews should not be allowed to participate.

When a number of countries threatened to boycott the games, Hitler gave assurances that Jewish and black athletes would be allowed to compete. A decade later, six million Jews would be slaughtered at the hands of Hitler’s Nazi thugs – illustrating just how shameful the 1936 Olympic Games are considered to be in the 120-year history of the event, held once every four years.

Today, however, the IOC finds itself exactly where it stood more than 80 years ago, staring face-to-face with an eerily similar moral predicament. This time, with a potentially genocidal Communist regime.

In 2015, the IOC awarded Beijing the hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games – two years before a trickle of information emerged regarding the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) establishment of a network of Muslim concentration camps in Xinjiang.

In the four years since, the sheer weight of credible and corroborated reports, alongside thousands of personal testimonies, could not only fill a public library, but also narrate the screenplay to the most nightmarish of dystopian movies. Accounts of torture, family separations, forced labour camps, forced marriages, forced sterilisations, forced adoptions, public executions, pack rape, destruction of mosques, and even live organ harvesting programmes are as common as they are widespread.

In June, the China Tribunal, a panel of lawyers and experts concluded that “many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason”, adding that many of China’s organ harvesting victims were “cut open while still alive for their kidneys, livers, hearts, lungs, cornea and skin” for the purpose of having Chinese Muslim body parts “turned into commodities for sale”.

Based on these testimonies, investigations and even satellite images of constructed camps and mosque demolition alone, how on earth can the IOC continue to stand by its decision to allow Beijing the right to host the 2022 Olympic Games?

Is it because the world’s top international sporting body lacks evidence akin to a ‘smoking gun’? Or is it waiting to see footage of smoking chimney stacks spewing the remains of gassed Muslims into the atmosphere? Can it be that it is somehow satisfied with Beijing’s stubborn but flimsy denials?

If the IOC has believed the evidence to be weak or the CCP convincing in the past, it now has no reasons to reassure itself, given more than 400 pages of leaked internal Chinese Government documents have provided irrefutable evidence of its systematic efforts to annihilate and erase 12 million ethnic Uyghur Muslims – in the words of CCP officials themselves. The documents are so detailed that they even include directives for teachers on how to address students whose parents have “disappeared”.

“Freedom is only possible when this ‘virus’ in their thinking is eradicated and they are in good health,” reads one chilling directive in the documents, mirroring the kind of demonising rhetoric the Nazis used to describe Judaism in the years leading up to the “Final Solution”. 

“At the very least, officials are explicitly ideologically committed to cultural genocide as a goal on the path to so-called social harmony,” observes Azeem Ibrahim. “And the possibility of mass killing – or of other attempts to forcibly shatter Uyghur identity, whether by sterilisation or deportation – remains very real. This leaves the international community with an unambiguous moral duty to intervene.”

Intervention has remained stubbornly difficult, however, given that China is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

The IOC, on the other hand, is not restrained by such procedural and organisational constraints, and thus surely it must be cognisant of the fact that it could play a part in pressuring Beijing into changing its behaviour – particularly because China needs the Olympics more than the IOC needs China, due to the economic benefits and accumulation of soft power such an event bestows upon a host nation.

The IOC can act and it must. In the same way Hitler saw the Berlin Games as an opportunity to promote and showcase his party’s ideals, including anti-Semitism and white supremacy, the CCP views the Beijing Winter Olympics as a chance to sell its brand of authoritarianism – one that is brutally opposed to notions pertaining to democracy, pluralism and equality and committed to carrying out the world’s largest persecution of a religious minority since the Holocaust.

Failure to revoke Beijing’s right to host the 2022 Olympic Games would mean that the world’s top international sporting body hasn’t learnt a thing from its shameful decision to allow Nazi Germany to host the event in 1936. The IOC should know what it needs to do. The question is: will it?


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