Dictators Don’t Deserve Box Seats at the Olympics — #KeeptheBoxEmpty

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The values expressed in the Olympic Charter — those of social responsibility and a “respect for universal fundamental ethical principles” — are as important now as they have ever been. Unfortunately, July’s Tokyo Summer Olympic Games will offer a unique opportunity for dictators who systematically disregard these values to grandstand on the world stage. 

We ask the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to take action now and refuse to invite dictators to take part in the Tokyo Games’ Opening Ceremonies. Instead, we urge the IOC to leave their designated seating box or virtual room as an “Empty Box” as a signal to the world that these rulers do not embody the spirit of the Olympics. 

Throughout Olympic history, authoritarian rulers have frequently used the fame and skill of their athletes to legitimize and promote their brutal regimes. Glamorous photos of victorious athletes will drown out the suffering of millions of people living under harsh dictatorships. It is not hard to see the contradictions between the principles of Olympism and, for example, the actions taken by the Chinese Communist Party as it pursues a policy of genocide against the Uyghur people, or the brutality of Saudi Arabia’s treatment of dissidents like the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or Russia’s continued crackdown on opposition figures through arrests and poisonings. 

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice have identified 15 countries, based on a number of criteria, whose dictators deserve an “Empty Box” during the Opening Ceremonies of the Tokyo Games: 

• Azerbaijan
• Burma
• Cameroon
• China
• Cuba
• Egypt
• Ethiopia
• Eritrea
• Iran
• Russia
• Rwanda
• Saudi Arabia
• Turkey
• Venezuela
• Vietnam 

The Olympics should be a celebration of sports, not of dictators.  

Please join us in urging the IOC to avoid conferring legitimacy on the authoritarian rulers of these countries by allowing them to share an equal platform with legitimate world leaders. Show the world that the Olympics truly are a platform for unity and social responsibility. Visit emptyboxseat.org to learn more about this campaign.

Do not provide authoritarian rulers access to the global stage at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and let the Empty Box make a powerful statement about the Olympics’ commitment to human rights. 



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