Sarah Hirshland has warned Congress against an athlete boycott of Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images

United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) chief executive Sarah Hirshland has said a boycott of Beijing 2022 is "not the solution to geopolitical issues".

The USOPC chief executive admitted in a letter to the US Congress that the organisation was troubled by China’s actions, which had led to some members of Congress calling for the United States to boycott next year’s Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The US last month joined the European Union, Canada and United Kingdom in imposing sanctions on China last month in response to alleged abuses of human rights in Xinjiang.

China issued a series of sanctions in response.

China has been accused of crimes including using forced Uyghur labour, operating a mass surveillance programme, detaining thousands in internment camps, carrying out forced sterilisations and intentionally destroying Uyghur heritage.

Beijing claims the camps are training centres designed to stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism, and denies the charges laid against it.

In a letter published by Politico, Hirshland wrote the USOPC was concerned over China’s conduct, but an athlete boycott should not be considered.

Human rights concerns have dominated the build-up to Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images
Human rights concerns have dominated the build-up to Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images

"Recently, a handful of voices, including some members of Congress, have called for Team USA to boycott the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing," Hirshland wrote.

"They have raised valid concerns about China’s conduct, including the oppression of the Uyghur population which the United States has designated a genocide.

"We too are troubled by the situation in China.

"The USOPC does not condone actions that undermine the core values of the Olympic movement - values that include diversity, peace, and respect for human dignity.

"However, an athlete boycott of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is not the solution to geopolitical issues.

"The American public agrees with that view - as evidenced by a recent Morning Consult poll that showed that roughly two thirds of Americans oppose a boycott of the 2022 Winter Games.

"We should bear in mind that Olympic boycotts do not have an encouraging history.

"In 1980, the US Government called for an athlete boycott of the 1980 Olympic Summer Games in Moscow as a way of pressuring the Soviet Union into leaving Afghanistan.

"As a result, 461 American athletes - the balance of them teenagers and college students representing almost every U.S. state - qualified to compete in Moscow only to have the opportunity taken from them.

"Many never had the chance to compete at the Olympic Games again."

The USPOC has remained consistent in its stance on Beijing 2022, with the organisation calling for Governments to engage with China directly on human rights and geopolitical issues, rather than pursue an athlete boycott of the Games.

Hirshland last year apologised to athletes from the 1980 US Olympic team who missed out on the chance to compete at Moscow as a result of the boycott instigated by US President Jimmy Carter.

The USOPC chief executive said last year that the Moscow 1980 boycott had "no impact" on global politics and said athletes deserved better.

Hirshland cited athletes efforts around the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, which opposed Russia’s anti LGBTQ+ legislation, to show how participation in the Games could highlight important causes on a global scale.

Sarah Hirshland highlighted Sochi 2014 highlighted issues around Russia's LGBT rights legislation ©Getty Images
Sarah Hirshland highlighted Sochi 2014 highlighted issues around Russia's LGBT rights legislation ©Getty Images

"More recent history shows how the Olympic and Paralympic Games can help to raise awareness of critical human rights issues," Hirshland added.

"Prior to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, Russia passed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that was met with broad global condemnation from participating athletes and nations alike.

"The Olympic and Paralympic community shone a light on inequality in practice, and the Sochi Games became a turning point in the effort to highlight the contributions and inclusion of LGBTQ+ athletes in global sport.

"The Olympic and Paralympic Games are a chance for the United States to showcase the values that make our country strong and respected: Our belief in fair competition; our commitment to the dignity of all people; and our support of the hard work and lifelong commitment of athletes from every state in the nation."

A diplomatic, rather than athlete, boycott of Beijing 2022 seems possible.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) - a Government body - last month presented its annual report which recommends that representatives from the country’s Government should not attend the Games.

The report urged Biden’s administration to "publicly express concerns" about Beijing staging the Winter Olympics and "state that US Government officials will not attend the Games if the Chinese Government’s crackdown on religious freedom continues".

Under the proposal, US athletes would still participate at Beijing 2022 while Biden’s Government officials would not be able to attend.

Dominic Raab, the UK Foreign Secretary, has similarly suggested before that a boycott of Beijing 2022 could be possible for politicians and dignitaries.

The US and UK were among the nations to conduct a political boycott of the Sochi 2014 Paralympics after Russia's entry into Crimea prior to the Games.

Beijing is set to become the first city to stage the Summer and Winter Olympics when the Games open on February 4 next year.