Sebastian Coe has doubled down on his insistence that boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympics over China’s human rights record and the treatment of tennis star Peng Shuai would be a mistake, saying dialogue and relationships are a better way. to “change the dial” politically and socially.
In his most forceful intervention yet, the World Athletics Director and IOC senior member called sports boycotts “historically illiterate and intellectually dishonest” and described the political boycott announced by the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries as ” frankly nonsensical. “
Human rights groups have accused China of forcibly interning more than a million Uyghurs in re-education camps in Xinjiang, subjecting them to forced sterilizations and intentionally destroying their culture, in addition to destroying democracy in Hong Kong.
That view is supported by the Biden administration, which earlier this month confirmed that it would not send diplomats to the Winter Games due to “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.”
However, Coe insisted that a “balance” was necessary when it comes to human rights and countries like China. He rejected claims that such a stance ignored the situation facing Uighurs and others.
“I am not carefree or arrogant about human rights, I take them very seriously,” he said. “But we have to be realistic, when we take our events around the world, there will be challenges: cultural, political and social. I guess my fallacious position on this is always, in an imperfect world, sport is the only continuum that can really create some stability. I have witnessed over and over again the impact that sport has had in moving that dial, socially, politically and economically ”.
When asked about boycotts, Coe, who headed the Organizing Committee for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, was blunt. “Boycotts in general are historically illiterate and intellectually dishonest,” he said. “A political boycott, frankly, doesn’t make sense. And in a world where I believe discussion and relationships matter, I rarely see isolation paying off.
“But that should not be an apologist for countries that do not conform to basic human rights standards. I have never seen sport leave a country in worse shape than when it was there. The general impact can be quite profound on many occasions. “
Last month, the WTA suspended tennis tournaments in China due to concerns about Peng’s safety, but Coe defended World Athletics’ plans to double the number of Diamond League events in China to two next summer.
“It is up to each sport to decide its own approach,” Coe said. “It’s not an approach that we would take at World Athletics and I don’t think in the long run it’s one that really achieves much. There are always unintended consequences. And after all, the people who suffer the most are athletes.
“All athletes must have the freedom to express their concerns and they must be able to do so without fear of censorship and they must be able to travel freely,” he said. “That is an important right. But we are talking about extrapolating from that to boycotting a sporting event, and I think that here there has to be proportionality, and I think there has to be balance ”.
Meanwhile, Coe confirmed that the Athletics Integrity Unit would intensify its safeguarding efforts in the sport. It comes after the Guardian revealed that top speed coach Rana Reider is under investigation by the US Safesport Center after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct were filed against him.
UK Sport is also investigating whether UK Athletics properly handled an allegation involving Reider and an 18-year-old sprinter when it was made in 2014. While Coe declined to comment specifically on that case, he accepted that athletics had to do more to achieve it. safe sport.
“I don’t know what is happening within UKA,” he said. “I’m sure they will want to see what happened and will need to go over that particular pathology. But one of the things that came out of our congress was to extend the mandate of the AIU. You can take a closer look at some of these protection issues.
“You can’t become the world’s policeman on this, but I think it will require a much greater interest in those kinds of things. During the convention we had Charlie Webster tell his story, and I can tell you that within hours of that, the federations contacted both World Athletics and AIU who said they couldn’t just sit around and watch certain people just get jobs at the convention. system knowing what they knew. It was as if his conscience was sorry for this.
“If we’re all honest about it, there are red flags that are sometimes ignored, and all too often a problem is removed from one federation and unknowingly ends up in another federation. It is really important that we can share that kind of information in the federations wherever they happen, because there are so many ”.