You could be forgiven for thinking Covid-19 has wiped out enough world-class sport in 2020 to last a lifetime but already there are those sizing up the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as the perfect political pawn. Looming large over the lead-in to the second Olympics in China in 14 years is the country’s treatment of Uygurs and its national security crackdown in Hong Kong, leading to widespread calls for the 2022 Games to be moved or cancelled. If the Games do go ahead, Australia is one country who should have no hesitation in boycotting – according to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. Australia has been locked in an ongoing stoush with China since prime minister Scott Morrison led calls for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus in April. In response, China has implemented increasingly aggressive trade restrictions on a range of Australian goods. China-Australia relations: 9,000 litres of beer, 8,000kg of beef stopped at Chinese ports as trade spat continues It’s a retaliation the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China – “an international cross-party group of legislators working towards reform on how democratic countries approach China” – has taken a particularly dim view of. British politician Iain Duncan Smith co-chairs the alliance and told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 programme last month that China’s “appalling” treatment of Australia gives it additional grounds to boycott Beijing. This view has received significant resistance from many, with the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) leading the chorus. “Pure sporting boycotts have not been successful in terms of bringing change in our world and that I think is pretty broadly accepted now,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll told 7.30 . One man who has seen first-hand the role that sport can play in creating dialogue between China and Australia is Andrew Hunter, a former political appointee who headed the Port Adelaide Football Club’s China engagement until earlier this year. Hunter was at the coalface as Port Adelaide forged its way into China, with the club making history by playing official Australian Football League matches in Shanghai from 2017-19 before Covid-19 stopped it in its tracks this year. “Will we use sport to engage or exclude? I think Australia should attend the Winter Olympics, I don’t think we should use sport to make such a statement,” said Hunter, who was former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill’s senior adviser for international engagement before joining Port Adelaide. “It’s been a disastrous year for Australia-China relations and that’s on top of five years where it became increasingly difficult between the two countries. Beating NFL and NBA to the punch: Port Adelaide bring real AFL deal to Shanghai “It’s become increasingly challenging in terms of the diplomatic relationship but I think at some point circumstances will invite positive re-engagement and sport has the potential to be part of it, as it has so many times in the past.” In his recently released book Port Adelaide to Shanghai: Taking Australia’s game to the world , Hunter outlines a series of events that occurred around the AFL matches during a time when relations between Australia and China had already soured. It started with Australia’s prime minister at the time, Malcolm Turnbull, using his first appearance on his maiden trip to China in 2016 to announce Port Adelaide’s intention to play a game on the mainland and also saw Chinese premier Li Keqiang attend an AFL match in Sydney in 2017. At the 2018 fixture in Shanghai, representatives from Australia and China held the first government-to-government meeting in over eight months and in 2019 the match became part of the Festival of Australia, an initiative to promote Australian businesses in China. “If you take any one of those moments in isolation, you could say it was potentially coincidence – that footy was just there and it was a nice thing to use,” Hunter said. “But the fact it happened every year over a four-year period, I think says on both the Australian and Chinese side that they wanted a positive platform on which they could engage which took a little bit of the politics and a bit of sting out of the relationship.” For Hunter, 2022’s Games will be another avenue for using sports diplomacy in a positive fashion. “When Australia and China slowly want to start turning the wheels of a positive relationship and you’ve got sport there as a softer, positive way of doing that, I think it will become more valid,” he said. “In 2022 you’d think Australia will be trying to fight its way out of a recession by then because of Covid-19 and a part of that, without wanting to be too pragmatic, is to make sure we’ve got our avenues to export open and firing. I think 2022 will be an opportunity to see how sport can be used positively.” Business ties ensure Aussie Rules is in China to stay, but how do Port Adelaide make it about more than money? There’s little doubt Beijing 2022 will be politically charged but surely any government worth its salt can find a way to use the Games in a progressive manner. After all, Covid-19 has offered a stark reminder of something quite obvious – that sport is better when it’s on – and there’s been countless examples of how it can play a role in the greater good. To suggest cancelling or boycotting the Winter Games seems the easy way out when some good solid diplomacy could achieve much, much more – and without punishing the fans and athletes.