Thoughts on the World Cup in China

The World Cup final this year will take place in Guangzhou in China next week, which was decided two years ago. I believed then, and I still believe now, that it is a bad idea from the International Orienteering Federation to place a high profile event in a country with such obvious problems with democracy & violations of the human rights. China systematicly discriminate minorities & supresses freedom of speech, which, in my opinion, makes it an unsuitable venue for a World Cup.

A common argument is that sports and politics are two separate things that shouldn’t be mixed (and therefore you shouldn’t take theese things into account when deciding venues for high profile international events) – an argument that I strongly disagree with. We are all part of this world, even if we are athletes. One could even argue that because we are are athletes we have a bigger responsibility than the average person to stand up and make our voices heard when we see something unjust (or in this case – inhumane), because we have a platform to stand on when doing so.

I believe that all organizations, be it sport federations or companies, have the responsibility to make well educated, sustainable, and ethical decisions in all areas, and that includes deciding where big events takes place.

Another argument I have heard a lot is to think about the local organizers and runners who has been working towards this, and how important it is for them (and how good it is to create relationships across borders and continents) – and I totally agree. This is a very good thing in that regard, but I don’t believe it outweighs the negatives.

But what can you as an athlete do in a situation like this, when the ”big federation” decides something above your head? Well, you can say ”I won’t stand for this”, and stay at home. That is a decision that I fully respect and admire. Or you can travel to China happily without problematising the issue at all, and enjoy what is probobly going to be good competitions, and accepting that you play in the hands of a regime that structurally and continuously violates human rights. That is a decision that I not so much fully admire (but totally understands). I have thought about this a lot, and have landed somewhere in between. It has not been an easy decision, because I think this is a serious issue. I will travel to China and compete for the overall World Cup, but I will not do so without discussing and highlighting the issue at hand – that as long as China violates human rights in this capacity it is an unsuitable venue for all big events.

I am sure that people will complain about me being hypocritical. How can you complain and still travel to China? Well, that is a difficult question. Is it better to stay at home and complain, or is it better to go there and try to highlight the issue from a bigger platform? I don’t know. There is also a lot at stake for me personally, with a good chance to compete for the overall World Cup title, which is an opportunity I may never have again. So is it a selfish decision from me to go and run the races, even though I think that it is wrong to have appointed them to China in the first place? Yes, probably. But is it better to travel to China without complaining, then? I don’t think so. I do believe that we all have a responsibility to make considerate choices, and I hope that we will get better and better at it. I know that this question has been discussed in both the Swedish Orienteering Federation and the International Orienteering Federation. Maybe this will be the start of orienteering becoming a more considerate and aware sport? I really hope so.

Below are some links that will help you continue to learn about…

democracy, imprisonment and detention, freedom of expression, and torture in China

Chinas repressive rule over the ethnic minority in Tibet

the surveillance state and Chinas mass detentions of ethnic minority Uighurs and other Muslim groups

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