Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) President John Coates has claimed an amendment to the Federal Government’s new foreign relations legislation could make athletes political pawns and "destroy" Brisbane’s bid to host the 2032 Olympic Games.
The AOC submitted comments related to the Australian Foreign Relations (State and Territory) Arrangements Bill 2020, with the organisation saying it was particularly interested to respond to independent Senator Rex Patrick.
Patrick announced earlier this month that he would submit an amendment to the bill to "ensure the activities of the AOC are consistent with Australia’s support for internationally recognised human rights and fundamental democratic freedoms".
Patrick, a senator for South Australia, says the amendment was prompted by the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, which he has called for athletes and the AOC to boycott.
"Although the AOC is an independent incorporated organisation its activities play a prominent part in Australia’s international profile," Senator Patrick said.
"The Olympic Games are occasions of considerable international significance and political importance for host countries; and Australia’s participation should at all times be consistent with national values including fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms.
"Dictatorial and authoritarian regimes crave the spectacle and supposed legitimacy conferred by major sporting events, the Olympic Games especially.
"Chinese President Xi is looking forward to the 2022 Beijing Games as a massive propaganda spectacle that will whitewash gross human rights violations including genocidal policies directed at the Uyghur people of Western China, the suppression of fundamental freedoms across China including Hong Kong and the arbitrary detention of Australian citizens on bogus national security charges.
"My proposed amendment to the Foreign Relations Bill will ensure that the Australian Government has clear authority to oversee the activities of the AOC as far as they relate to Australia’s foreign relations including support for human rights.
"If the Federal Government can oversee the international arrangements of state governments, local governments and universities, it should definitely be empowered to supervise the AOC."
Coates has claimed the passing of such an amendment would have a series of consequences for Australian athletes, the AOC and the Brisbane’s bid for the Olympic Games.
The AOC President called on politicians to learn from the boycotts of the Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, saying that there was a risk of athletes being used at political pawns.
"A position for or against a boycott of Beijing 2022 by the AOC is not a position on human rights, but on how human rights concerns should be advanced in a global environment," Coates wrote.
"There are a wide range of options available to nation states like Australia to express concern about the conduct of others.
"The merit of boycotting a single sporting event, in circumstances where sport, and the Olympic Games in particular, has a unique capacity to bring countries together in peaceful competition, promoting dialogue, is questionable and also risks being counter-productive.
"It is also important to note that sending a team of Australian athletes to Beijing 2022 does not preclude the Australian government, individual politicians and/or individual athletes from separately taking any political or diplomatic action they choose in relation to the event.
"By way of example only, it is open to the Federal Government Ministers invited to attend the Games to decline that invitation."
Coates suggested the potential amendment could see the AOC’s recognition be suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), due to rules over Government interference.
The IOC vice-president said a suspension would destroy Brisbane’s bid for the 2032 Olympic Games.
"Brisbane's candidature to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games is well advanced," Coates, also an IOC vice-president, wrote.
"The bid to host has the support of the Federal Government, Queensland Government and Council of Mayors of South-East Queensland, and of the major opposition parties at each level.
"The AOC has provided its approval of the Brisbane candidature to the IOC under by-law 1.1 to rule 33 of the Charter.
"The AOC submits that any suspension of the AOC arising from the Bill or any boycott will effectively terminate that candidature.
"The AOC believes that Australia's ability to participate in the Olympic Movement will be severely compromised if Senator Patrick's proposed amendment to the Bill passes.
"The AOC does not support the proposed amendment."
Officials in countries including the United States and the United Kingdom have also suggested a boycott of the Games in protest at China's alleged abuses of human rights.
A British boycott would likely consist of politicians and dignitaries not attending, rather than the Olympic team.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed last month that a decision had not yet been made over whether politicians will boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Johnson said a decision has yet to be made on whether British politicians or members of the Royal Family will attend the Games.
The letter can be accessed here.