By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - A boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics would not bring home two Canadian men detained in China for more than two years or force a change to China's human rights record but would only punish athletes, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said on Thursday.
With the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Winter Games scheduled to start in exactly one year, the COC put out an op-ed confirming a commitment to take part in the 2022 Games as calls grow to boycott the event or have it moved from China.
"My regular communication with athletes is via athletes commissions and we have had a few conversations on this topic but I must confess they don't last very long," COC chief executive officer David Shoemaker told Reuters.
"Our Canadian athletes are very much looking forward to the next two Olympic Games in Tokyo and Beijing.
"Calls for boycotts aren't new. Having said that, we do have a heightened level of concern."
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) echoed a similar position on Wednesday saying they oppose boycotts because "they have been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues".
A group of U.S. Senators, however, have a very different view, introducing a resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to move the Beijing Olympics following the U.S.’ designation the Chinese government was perpetrating a genocide by repressing Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang region.
Canada's participation at the Beijing Games has been further put in the spotlight by China's detention of businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig in what Canada views as retribution for the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant.
As Kovrig and Spavor languish in prison, calls for the Canadian government to get tough with China have grown.
A July poll found more than half of Canadians believe Ottawa should take more aggressive action to persuade Beijing to release the two men who face spying charges.
The COC underlined that it supports that effort but not at the expense of athletes, who too often have been the pawns in geo-political disputes.
"We referenced the two Michaels in our op ed and we have had conversations with the government and directly with the Canadian ambassador to China," said Shoemaker.
"We understand all of the issues of concern to Canadians in China and they are being addressed by the Canadian government as the highest priority.
"It is our view that this is where we should place our trust and confidence and the Canadian Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee focus should be on delivering inspiring teams."
The IOC is no stranger to boycotts or the threat of one.
The U.S. led a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Games over the Soviet Union's presence in Afghanistan.
Four years later in a tit-for-tat response the Soviet Union led a boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Canada's senior IOC member Dick Pound says in both instances nothing was accomplished.
"If the Canadian government is mad at the Chinese government, it knows how to get that message to them," Pound told Reuters. "There are all kinds of recognised international measures available.
"In 1980, the Canadian government leaned all over the COC and, over my dead body, capitulated, and it turned out the boycott was the only significant measure they took.
"They know it is an ineffective gesture."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Ken Ferris)