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Groups target Beijing 2022 Olympics sponsors over China’s human-rights abuses

A member of the Uyghur community living in Turkey joins a protest against China in Istanbul on Friday. (AP photo)

In one corner are the 15 leading Olympic sponsors, many household names like Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Visa, Toyota, Samsung and General Electric. Together they pay at least $1 billion to the International Olympic Committee, and in the next four-year Olympic cycle the payments could reach $2 billion.

They are tied together by Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics, which opens in just under a year. Sponsors want the Olympic connection, but they risk damaging their brand because of reported human-rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs, Tibetans and other minorities in China.

In the other corner is a small core of international lawyers and activists. They have branded these the “Genocide Games” and are pressuring sponsors, the IOC and world sports federations to investigate.

Thousands of Olympic athletes are caught in the middle. For most, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance for fame and a medal. But they’re on their own. Those who speak out may be banned by Olympic bodies, dropped by sponsors, and threatened by the Chinese state.

“It’s not fair that these huge institutions who can speak out are going to leave it to the individual athletes to do this,” Blair McDougall, campaign director for the British-based Stop Uyghur Genocide, told The Associated Press.

Instead, there is silence.

“Once again athletes are being used as pawns,” said Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete, an advocacy group for Olympic athletes.

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