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China Is Playing Games With The Olympics – The Christians Lose
China promised that a history of religious persecution would see major improvements as part of their Olympic bid in 2001. That is not what has happened.

The Olympic Games have delivered disappointment before the opening ceremonies have begun. The Fundamental Principles of Olympism (listed on page 11 of the Olympic Charter) govern the International Olympic Committee and set conditions for the celebration of the Olympic Games. Regrettably, this summer’s Games have a stage set to give the world little to celebrate in terms of those principles.

… foreign Olympic athletes have also had their rights curtailed.

Visiting the main website of the Beijing Olympic Games, one might think that the host nation, China, is committed to the principles listed there, including: ‘respect for universal fundamental ethical principles;’ ‘the preservation of human dignity;’ and, the commitment to avoid ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise.’ Instead, both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and China have highlighted principles that these Games have blatantly disregarded – China by its behaviour, and the IOC by refusing to hold the host nation accountable for its actions.

China promised that a history of religious persecution would see major improvements as part of their Olympic bid in 2001. At the time, Beijing’s Deputy Major, Liu Jingmin stated  “by applying for the Olympics, we want to promote not just the city’s development, but the development of society, including democracy and human rights”. To confirm the seriousness of this commitment, Jacques Rogge, President of the IOC publicly stated the IOC would take action if human rights were not acted upon to their satisfaction.

That is not what has happened. Instead a report by the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) issued in June 2008 assessed the broken promises of the Chinese government in relation to the commitments that were instrumental in obtaining the Olympic Games. The RLC’s report considered specifically the Protestant House Church movement in China, finding conditions for Christians in China have deteriorated in the lead up to the Olympics. Further, the increased abuse experienced by Chinese Christians and foreign Christians residing in or travelling to China appears to be directly linked to China’s role as host to the Games. The Chinese government has justified its actions by attributing the crackdown to concerns about public unrest. 

The RLC report details actions of Chinese government representatives that include but are not limited to imprisoning religious leaders and attendees, unjust trials and lack of access to lawyers for prisoners, media  censorship of trials, the use of torture, lack of freedom for house churches to operate freely and openly, the banning of foreign missionaries to enter and reside in China and the banning of Chinese children from having access to Bibles and Christian teaching.

As well Amnesty International issued a report in late July confirming these conclusions on a broader scale of human rights abuses. But the IOC has continued to maintain the public position that China is making progress on human rights, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary.

And it’s not just about denying freedom of religion to Chinese Christians, foreign Christians travelling to China and foreign Olympic athletes have also had their rights curtailed.

The Chinese government has decreed that no country sending a team to the Summer Games is permitted to bring team or individual athlete’s spiritual advisors – a practice that has been permitted for all modern Olympic Games. Instead, China has said it will provide Chinese government approved spiritual advisors to national teams upon request. This poses problems on a cultural and language level, as well as disrupting the regular routines of a large number of athletes.

Historically, the advisors who travel with teams have been selected because they hold the confidence of team members and national Olympic team officials. This will be sorely lacking in those approved and provided by the Communist Party of China. This decision could jeopardize the spiritual health of the athletes, impact performance, and is ultimately a reflection of the ongoing reluctance of China’s government to accept and allow true freedom of religion

Traditionally, in addition to the athletes, faith groups have used the Olympic Games as an opportunity to freely share their beliefs with representatives from around the world. Not this year. Evangelism at the Games has been forbidden by the Chinese government. Displays of faith are considered to be subversive and the Chinese government has forbidden any subversive activities or protests by Chinese citizens, visitors, delegations or athletes.

The government has set aside three venues outside the Olympic areas where protests may take place; however any such protest requires five days notice and a government certificate of approval. If people, religious or otherwise, are found disseminating information that the Chinese government deems subversive or protesting outside the designated areas or without a certificate in the designated areas they will be arrested.

As viewers around the world tune in to watch celebrated athletes compete for athletic supremacy in the coming weeks, governments and the IOC should take a sober second look at the fundamental principles that guide the Games and attempt to redeem themselves in the eyes of the citizens of the world and, more importantly, in the eyes of those who are suffering extreme human rights abuse in China.

Jocelyn Durston is International Policy Analyst for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada




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