Sports show: Do you expect other countries to join the US?
Ohlberg: I assume that this is already being discussed in some countries. I have to say, I would be extremely disappointed as a European if no European country would join. And I would actually be very disappointed in Germany if it doesn’t make it up.
Sports show: The new Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been very cautious so far. How do you explain this hesitation?
Ohlberg: I think Olaf Scholz sees himself as the successor to Angela Merkel in China politics, who has taken a very soothing course. This course was designed not to upset the Chinese government and to protect certain branches of the German economy from retaliation from China. I have the impression that these reprisals are more fearful than needed. Attention is paid to the supposedly German interest, which is actually the interest of some large corporations. It was reported that Mr Scholz should have signaled that Ms. Merkel would continue on Ms. Merkel’s China course. So it’s not at all surprising as a reaction from him. But just because something isn’t surprising doesn’t mean you can’t be disappointed with it.
Sports show: What signal effect does this have on other countries? Many European countries are orienting themselves towards Germany.
Ohlberg: That’s the problem with the whole thing. When it comes to major China issues, Germany likes to look at smaller countries and says “they are holding us back”. But many smaller countries, especially Lithuania, are actually a lot further than Germany and are ready to risk a lot more in order to stand up for their own values. Yes, Germany sets the tone, and of course that ultimately makes it even more annoying. If Germany does not go along with a diplomatic boycott, I hope that other countries will not be too impressed by it.
Sports show: The IOC – the owners of the Olympic Games – is part of this political network. When asked about the diplomatic boycotts, Thomas Bach again emphasized the political neutrality of the IOC and the Games. How can one of the greatest sporting events, especially when it takes place in China, be politically neutral?
Ohlberg: That is of course a very cheap talking point, political neutrality. Anyone who deals with it for three seconds knows: not making a decision is also a decision. Awarding the Games to Beijing is of course a highly political act that is perceived as political on all sides. There have been long calls to boycott the extremely serious human rights violations in Xinjiang. If you do not react to this, then that is not a politically neutral act. Instead, you take the side of the Chinese government. It’s an extremely simple principle that I’m sure the IOC understands. That is the direction, the spin that one has chosen and that is often chosen in sporting events. But of course that is nonsense as such.
Sports show: This reluctance of the IOC was most recently shown in the case of the missing tennis player Peng Shuai. How do you rate this positioning of the IOC?
Ohlberg: Coward. Because in this particular case you have seen that there is another way. We have the Women’s Tennis Association, which has positioned itself extremely clearly. The WTA has asked to be able to speak to it itself and has ultimately taken the step to officially cancel games in China. These are all things you can do as a sports organization if you just want to. The IOC made a conscious decision not to do so. That is unfortunate in that case. And it is also regrettable that we as a society as a whole let it pass. That we don’t demand more responsibility from the IOC and not demand certain consequences if that doesn’t happen. The IOC gets away with it surprisingly often. And of course that is also our problem that we go along with it.
Sports show: The IOC says it has lived up to its responsibilities in the “Peng Shuai case” and points to two video interviews with the tennis player during which it was able to assure itself that she appears to be fine.
Ohlberg: Not only is it that these two video calls do not guarantee your safety, it is actually that it puts you more at risk. Because the IOC is involved. We know of an extremely large number of cases where people have been placed under house arrest, where people have disappeared. We know from all cases that attention and media effectiveness help people to be treated better. And not cover-up. And that’s ultimately what the IOC does. The Chinese government is being helped cover up the disappearances. By vouching for that everything is in order with your name. And that is incredibly bad for people who find themselves in such situations, it actively harms them. I don’t even know what else to say about it. It is absolutely irresponsible.
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Asia expert: “Awarding the Games to Beijing is of course a highly political act”