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Beijing Winter Olympics 2022: event will unite disparate protestors under one boycott banner

With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing commencing on 4 February, Barbara Kelemen, lead intelligence analyst for Asia at security intelligence firm Dragonfly, forecasts further global protests from a host of disparate groups boycotting the event, including in the US and Europe, with sponsors caught between a rock and a hard place.

Barbara Kelemen, Lead Intelligence Analyst for Asia at security intelligence firm Dragonfly

“Diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 from several governments, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan and Denmark, are likely to embolden peaceful demonstrations. We’ve already witnessed various global protests from civil society groups, including in Turkey where the focus was on accusations of torture and genocide against the Muslim Uighur minority by the Chinese state.

“There will probably be further protests in the next week (week commencing 31 January), leading up to and including the Winter Olympics’ opening ceremony on 4 February. These will likely include demonstrations outside of corporate headquarters and offices of businesses with perceived or direct links to the event, such as sponsors. Such protests are most probable in North America, Europe, India and Japan, where established and active networks of people frequently campaign on issues such as Tibetan independence, Taiwan, Hong Kong and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Athletes may make political gestures

“There is a reasonable likelihood that some athletes may make political gestures or comments throughout the games. However, we anticipate these will be discrete and in line with International Olympic Committee (IOC) regulations, with some athletes probably waiting to express more critical views once they leave China.

“These disparate issue groups are now united under the boycott of the Winter Olympics. We anticipate that civil society groups behind these protests will continue using social media to pressure corporations to issue public statements condemning China over a number of contentious topics. In some cases these groups may even attempt to target companies with cyber-attacks to disrupt their online activities.

Sponsors in no-win situation

“Companies sponsoring the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing face reputational risks and pressure from groups and consumers outside the country. They also face potential boycotts or website closures in China should they decide to withdraw support for the event or issue statements on sensitive issues such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. There have been several consumer boycotts of Western companies that have criticised the Chinese government’s stance on these issues in the last few years. In some instances, these seem to have been consumer-led and unprompted by Chinese government condemnation of the company.”