Myanmar’s High Swimmer Boycotts the Olympics to Protest the Army Coup—and Says the IOC Should Cease Hiding Behind Neutrality

Myanmar’s Top Swimmer Boycotts the Olympics to Protest the Military Coup—and Says the IOC Must Stop Hiding Behind Neutrality

Win Htet Oo labored all his life to change into an elite swimmer, with the dream of representing Myanmar on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However after the Feb. 1 navy coup that overthrew the democratically elected authorities in Myanmar, he forfeited his probability at Olympic glory, saying he wouldn’t signify the navy junta in worldwide competitors.

Now, the 27-year-old is criticizing the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC) for permitting the navy authorities to ship a delegation to Tokyo—saying the group’s coverage of neutrality dangers tarnishing the core values of the Olympic Video games.
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“When the coup occurred, I had no considered representing Myanmar underneath that flag, underneath the navy regime,” Win Htet Oo tells TIME through video name from Melbourne, Australia, the place he lives and trains.

In a letter posted to his Fb web page on April 10, he referred to as on the IOC to ban the Myanmar Olympic Committee. “To just accept the [Myanmar Olympic Committee] as it’s at the moment led is to acknowledge the legitimacy of a murderous regime,” he wrote.

READ MORE: Can Myanmar’s Democracy Survive With out Aung San Suu Kyi?

Win Htet Oo, born in Malaysia to Burmese mother and father, says he was taught to be pleased with his Burmese heritage. Representing Myanmar on the Olympics was his objective, and would have been the “pinnacle” of his two-decade swimming profession. “Going to the Olympics wasn’t simply to test off my achievement listing. It wasn’t simply to say I swam on the Olympics,” Win Htet Oo says. “It was to point out Myanmar that we might get to the Olympics if we had the best coaching, if we had the best coaches, the best amenities.”

Win Htet Oo, who holds Myanmar’s 50-m, 100-m and 200-m males’s freestyle information, is probably Myanmar’s high swimmer. He had an opportunity to compete on the Tokyo Olympics after assembly the qualifying normal time on the 2019 Southeast Asian Video games, the place he represented Myanmar.

Two months after the coup, he wrote to the IOC asking that Myanmar athletes be allowed to compete underneath a impartial flag. The IOC turned down his request, saying it could stay politically impartial.

After studying that the navy authorities had staffed the Myanmar Olympic Committee to kind an Olympic squad, Win Htet Oo introduced his withdrawal from the Olympics on April 10—to preemptively keep away from being related to the navy. At the least three Myanmar athletes—in badminton, judo and capturing—have certified to compete in Tokyo.

The IOC didn’t reply to TIME’s request for remark Monday. Nevertheless, in an announcement to Australian outlet SBS Information, the group referred to the part of the Olympic Constitution that claims “sports activities organizations throughout the Olympic Motion shall apply political neutrality.” The assertion additionally stated the Myanmar Olympic Committee has assured the IOC that there was “no influence” on Myanmar’s preparation for the Video games.

The navy has continued its violent crackdown on protests, which have taken place nearly every day because it seized energy from the federal government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Almost 900 folks have been killed, in line with the United Nations, which calls the political disaster “a multi-dimensional human rights disaster.” Myanmar is prone to a civil warfare, with some protesters and ethnic militias participating in armed fights with the navy in numerous elements of the nation.

READ MORE: A Main Activist Talks About Her Position within the Struggle Towards Myanmar’s Junta

Win Htet Oo says the IOC is hiding behind its coverage of political neutrality to permit Myanmar and different brutal regimes to compete—and he believes it’s hurting the Olympics within the long-term. “The IOC can’t use the neutrality precept to duck away from these choices, and so they have… to resolve to make these choices to finally shield the Olympic motion,” he says.

He provides: “Any type of stain of repression or crimes towards humanity doesn’t belong on the Olympic Video games. Even the IOC’s personal values, rules should be fought for and permitting the Myanmar Olympic Committee into the Video games goes towards these values and rules.”

Few nations have been barred from the Olympic Video games. Russia’s Olympics group was banned from the 2018 Winter Video games, in addition to the 2020 and 2022 Olympics, over state-sponsored doping—although athletes have been allowed to take part underneath a impartial flag. The IOC banned South Africa from competing in 1964 and 1968, and expelled the nation’s Olympics group fully in 1970 following a boycott marketing campaign over the nation’s racist apartheid insurance policies. After World Battle I and World Battle II, a number of nations on the shedding aspect of these conflicts have been excluded from the Olympics, as effectively.

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Win Htet Oo isn’t the one outstanding Burmese athlete to have brazenly denounced the Myanmar navy. In June, Pyae Lyan Aung, goalkeeper for Myanmar’s nationwide soccer group, refused to return residence after a match in Japan. He informed reporters he feared for his life after flashing a three-finger salute, an emblem of protest towards the Myanmar junta. The soccer participant is now looking for asylum in Japan.

Win Htet Oo says he’s reaching out to different Burmese athletes who’re primarily based outdoors Myanmar to kind a solidarity group to advocate to the IOC and different worldwide sports activities governing our bodies.

By boycotting the Tokyo Video games, Win Htet Oo is successfully placing an finish to his swimming profession that began when he was six years previous. However he says he doesn’t remorse it. “I stand in solidarity with so many individuals in Myanmar, whose goals have additionally fallen aside,” he says. “My sporting profession is nothing in comparison with every part that they’ve misplaced. They’ve misplaced possibilities of settling down, having a household, having a profession.”