The reason swimmer Win Htet Oo is not heading to the Tokyo Olympics is easy to explain. Oo, whose parents have Burmese lineage, did not want to compete for Myanmar due to the junta in power in his homeland. In February, the military, led by senior general Min Aung Hlaing, seized control of the country after a general election was won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party in late 2020. The military said the election was marred by voter fraud. The coup led to widespread protests and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group estimates security forces have killed at least 766 civilians. The junta disputes this figure, stating that at least 24 members of its security forces have been killed during the protests. Myanmar’s military has a long and documented history as a brutal, oppressive regime. Recent sweeping moves by its security forces saw the snatching of young men and boys in a bid to quash the three-month uprising. Now a group of more than 200 non-governmental organisations, including Human Rights Watch, are calling for a global arms embargo on Myanmar . As an athlete, representing your country at the Olympics is the highest honour. Oo feels his government, currently a military dictatorship, does not represent his values as an athlete or human being. He is a practising Buddhist and subscribes to the ideals of democracy, freedom of expression and a country’s obligations to uphold fundamental human rights. His decision to forgo trying to clock an Olympic standard qualifying time in the 50-metre freestyle, which would allow the Myanmar Olympic Committee to invite him to attend the Games, is understandable. Standing in front of a flag you feel represents “a genocidal military” would be difficult knowing the world is watching. Will the Olympic spirit burn bright at China’s 2022 Winter Games amid boycott calls and the pandemic? Oo also had the option of qualifying and then making a statement in Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee’s newly adopted Rule 50, which explicitly bans any type of political gesture by an athlete at the Games, would have surely come down hard on him. Oo spoke to the Post about raising a three-finger salute – a “Hunger Games” symbol used in multiple protest movements across Southeast Asia – but feared heavy-handed repercussions by the IOC. Athletes have been protesting against their own nations for decades. The most memorable of the modern era is the Black Power salute by African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Now in the US, taking a knee during The Star-Spangled Banner has become its own form of protest. Athletes have also made statements by protesting against other athletes. Australian swimmer Mack Horton’s unwillingness to get on the podium with Chinese swimmer Sun Yang made international headlines during the 2019 World Swimming Championships in South Korea. Horton’s goal was simple: bring attention to Yang’s questionable past regarding doping. This is why something doesn’t add up in the boycott movement concerning the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. No athlete has come forward stating they will not compete next February over alleged human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, or the imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong. So far, this boycott has been led by Western politicians looking to score political points as well as a coalition of human rights groups. Athletes are not diplomatic currency and should not be treated as such. This does not excuse China’s actions concerning its Uygur population, nor should it signify any athlete agrees with what is going on in the country, or that by competing at the Winter Olympics they support the host’s nations policies or governance. The IOC has long shown its willingness to hide behind its policy of “political neutrality” when awarding Games to wealthy, influential nations such as China and Russia, which also has a questionable human rights record. This should not put athletes in the precarious position of having to choose politics over competing at the sport they love. The IOC, within its own Olympic Charter, outlines six Fundamentals of Olympism, and is littered with phrases like “social responsibility”, “fundamental ethical principles”, “the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society”, and that “the practice of sport is a human right”. How this blends with “political neutrality” and Rule 50, an apparent censorship tactic by the IOC, is anyone’s guess. There are other ways the international community can put pressure on nations, such as China, who want to engage on a diplomatic level with the Western world, but have glaring human rights abuses taking place within their own borders. Dragging athletes into the fray is a questionable tactic when the IOC has clearly lost its own moral compass in awarding bids to controversial countries that violate the values outlined in its own Olympic Charter. Athletes should be free to make statements, get political and stand up for what they believe in. But herein lies the most important point, they should be able to make these decisions on their own, not forced into a geopolitical stand-off by politicians who should be aiming their rhetoric at a morally and ethically bankrupt IOC.