BERLIN (Reuters) – The Olympics cannot be expected to solve longstanding political problems that politicians themselves have failed to clear up, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said, as criticism over the Beijing 2022 winter Games grows.
On Monday, the White House said U.S. government officials would boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing because of China’s human rights “atrocities”, although U.S. athletes are free to travel there to compete.
The IOC has long been criticised for awarding the Games to China given the country’s rights record and despite continued calls from human rights groups and activists to move them from Beijing.
“What is our responsibility and what are our limits?,” Bach said in an interview with the German news agency DPA shortly before the U.S. decision on Monday.
“Our responsibility is to run the Games in accordance with the Olympic Charter… and to bring together the athletes from 206 teams and the IOC refugee team under one roof.”
“Going beyond this, expecting that Olympic Games can fundamentally change a country, its political system or its laws, is a completely exaggerated expectation,” said Bach, a German national and a lawyer by profession.
“The Olympics cannot solve problems that generations of politicians have not solved.”
Bach said the IOC had to remain politically neutral in order to represent all competing nations and respect universality.
The U.S. boycott, encouraged for months by some members of Congress and rights advocacy groups, comes despite an effort to stabilise ties, with a video meeting last month between U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping.
“The IOC does not have the power and the means to change political systems. The political neutrality of the IOC and the Games applies here,” he said.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration highlighted what Washington says is genocide against minority Muslims in China’s western region of Xinjiang. China denies all rights abuses.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Editing by William Maclean)