David Owen

Barring another downwards spiral in world affairs, I would be surprised if any major winter sports nation proceeds with a full-scale boycott of Beijing 2022.

The United States? Well, then, good luck with getting a Chinese team to Los Angeles 2028 (which would be a shame, given China’s role at LA1984).

Australia? Ditto, Brisbane 2032.

Canada? Great Britain? Scandinavia? All have so much to lose in trade and commercial terms from a potential fallout with Beijing.

Granted, Brexit has demonstrated that Britain is prepared to fly in the face of its own economic interests when it deems this somehow necessary.

But if the US decides not to keep its athletes away, then it is hard to imagine the UK not following its lead, especially given its heavy investment in medals success in recent decades.

The first Refugee Olympic Team competed at Rio 2016 ©Getty Images
The first Refugee Olympic Team competed at Rio 2016 ©Getty Images

This does not mean that the sports world should not, or cannot, take the opportunity of using China’s place in the Olympic spotlight to send a humanitarian message to President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist party as they pursue a "great rejuvenation" of the Chinese nation while seeking to supplant the US as the largest national economy.

Such a message would be quite in keeping with the fundamental principles of Olympism, as spelt out in the Olympic Charter.

Here we read that Olympism, for example, "seeks to create a way of life based on…respect for universal fundamental ethical principles".

The goal of Olympism, meanwhile, is "to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity".

The preamble to the 2022 Host City Contract, it is worth underlining, spells out that the Chinese Government has covenanted to respect the Olympic Charter, or at least the version of it that pertained in 2015 when the Chinese capital was awarded the Games.

As a small but encouraging first step, it would be good to see a member of the Uyghur refugee community included in the Refugee team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

This is currently expected to be announced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in June.

Such a gesture would not change facts on the ground; but it could, I think, provide a meaningful tonic for people who must sometimes feel the world has forgotten about them, as well as a vehicle for getting their story, however briefly, in the international gaze.

China has faced criticism over its treatment of Uyghur muslims ©Getty Images
China has faced criticism over its treatment of Uyghur muslims ©Getty Images

There are some who argue that the creation of an Olympic refugee team ahead of the Rio 2016 Games benefits the IOC and the Olympic Movement as much as it does the actual downtrodden of the world.

This is on grounds that it burnishes the already very valuable Olympic brand with a philanthropic sheen.

A passage in the new Olympic Agenda 2020+5 blueprint explains how the positive values that many still attach to Olympicland can be monetised.

"The IOC continues to provide a very attractive proposition to commercial partners thanks to the Olympic values on which the Olympic Movement is based," the new document asserts.

It goes on: "We know this brand association continues to be a valuable component and a driving element behind leading global companies’ desire to be associated with us.

"We want to make sure that our partners are able to tap into this and leverage their association with these values.

"Purpose-led marketing has become one of the most impactful tools for companies, institutions and rights-holders to position themselves to target audiences, with a focus on the ambitions, purpose and values of the company, rather than solely putting their products or services at the heart of their marketing strategy.

"In the Olympic context, this means developing mutually beneficial projects and programmes with partners that support the role of sport as an important enabler for sustainable development goals.

"As a values-based organisation, this is what we offer to our partners."

IOC President Thomas Bach is of course a great man for bird analogies; here he could kill two birds with one stone.

By engaging the Uyghur community in this way, he could not only send a message to Xi, but also do more to persuade refugee-team sceptics that the initiative can make a real difference.

It is an opportunity which the IOC should take.