Canada’s new Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge says she respects the decision of Canadian athletes to attend the Beijing Olympics amid calls for some version of a boycott.
Speaking to reporters before question period on Thursday, St-Onge said she spoke with the Canadian Olympic Committee on Wednesday and “the [athletes] are still convinced that they want to go to the Olympics.”
“I totally respect their independence and the decision they’re making,” she said.
Human rights advocates and opposition politicians have been urging the government to pull its presence from the upcoming Winter Games hosted by a country with a documented history of human rights abuses.
The calls have mounted amid the recent disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai after she publicly accused Zhang Gaoli, 75, a former vice-premier who was a member of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, of sexually assaulting her.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca last week, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said Ottawa is discussing the move with its partners.
U.S. President Joe Biden confirmed during a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House that he is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games, meaning they would refrain from sending government officials but would still send athletes.
Decisions around Olympic participation are made by countries’ individual Olympic bodies, although boycotts are typically the result of governmental pressure. When Canada abstained from the Moscow Olympics in 1980, then-prime minister Joe Clark expressed his desire for a boycott well before the official vote from what was then known as the Canadian Olympic Association.
Liberal MP Adam van Koeverden, who carried the flag for Canada at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, said on Wednesday that the Games have always “cast a bright light on issues around the world.”
“Light is just the first step, in my view, and the issue with, you know, whether there is a diplomatic boycott we’ll leave that up to the diplomats and the leadership to determine. I’m just insistent that our athletes, you know, are not tools of diplomacy,” he said.
Van Koeverden said that athletes can both compete in a country and stand up against abuses there.
“I don’t think that being an athlete, caring about our athletes or cheering for our athletes is mutually exclusive from believing and caring about the Uyghur genocide,” he said.
With a file from CTV News’ Ryan Flanagan and Michael Lee