Edward McMillan-Scott: Power of the sports boycott

THE Government wants it both ways on sport boycotts. It is trying to ban Zimbabwe's cricket team from a UK tour but wants to hang on to Zimbabwe – and other sympathetic African countries especially South Africa – for the 2012 London Olympics.

In a world clamouring for democracy and the universal value of human rights, Britain could give a lead by arguing for a switch of all future games to Athens, home of the Olympics and a 2004 spectacular (and saving us 10 billion in the process) – as well as saying no to Zimbabwe's cricketers.

Unlike sanctions, boycotts work and yes, sport, politics and religion are inevitably mixed.

"The situation in Zimbabwe is obviously deeply concerning. I think that bilateral cricket tours at the moment don't send the right message about our concern", foreign secretary David Miliband said the other week.

But in a House of Lords debate on human rights in China, in which Moscow Olympics silver medallist Lord Moynihan referred to my Beijing boycott campaign, government spokesman Lord Malloch-Brown sidestepped the issue, although every speaker referred to China's ghastly record, of an order of magnitude greater than Zimbabwe's.

The Mugabe regime has "cleared" nearly 100,000 homes, allowed mass hunger, destitution of the economy and is guilty of scores of deaths.

When ITV broadcast a series of horrifying reports from Zimbabwe last autumn, the government began all sorts of back-stairs deals, some through sports bodies, to put off the cricket tour.

The truth is that sport is now a high-profile commercial activity with an unprecedented impact on the public.

So much so that Pope Benedict recently gave football his blessing and said: "Soccer should increasingly become a tool for the teaching of life's ethical and spiritual values".

In 2001, making his pitch for the 2008 Olympics, bid spokesman Liu Jingmin argued that: "By allowing Beijing to host the games you

will help the development of

human rights".

Even though article one of the Olympic Charter insists on "universal fundamental ethical principles" the crackdown by Beijing on dissidents and religions has continued with increased severity.

Last month, the European Parliament unanimously expressed "serious concern" and invited the IOC to make its own assessment of China's compliance with its pledges. Maybe sponsors VISA, Coca Cola and Kodak could ask the questions.

On December 27, Hu Jia, an environmental activist who has publicised Beijing's appalling air quality and the demolition of hundreds of thousands of homes to make way for the Olympics, was taken from his home by 20 policemen.

Another noted dissident, Christian human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng – sometimes called China's Lech Walesa – has disappeared in similar circumstances after an open letter criticising Olympic corruption. I had been in regular contact with both.

Gao is best known for his report on the regime's vast brutality against the Falun Gong "Buddha school" spiritual movement.

Harry Wu, an exiled dissident, runs a US research foundation which estimates that there are about 1,100 penal camps in China's Laogai system with an estimated 6.8 million inmates, most detained without trial.

The UN's torture specialist, Austrian jurist Manfred Nowak, says the majority are Falun Gong practitioners, being "re-educated"

or tortured to recant. Survivors have told me of SS tactics.

At least 3,000 have died under torture since the crackdown on Falun Gong's 70 million practitioners began in 1999 – for no other reason than its popularity as a health-promoting activity.

They are probably the reason why China is switching this month from executions by a shot in the head to lethal injections, as I am told this preserves prisoners' bodies better as a quarry for the army's lucrative organ transplant industry.

Would the 1936 Berlin Olympics have taken place if the world had known about the Nazi's camps?

US Supreme Court judge Felix Frankfurter said of Jan Karski's

reports about the SS camps: "I did not say that this young man was

lying. I said that I was unable to believe what he told me. There is

a difference."

It is time for the civilised world to wake up to what is really happening in the hidden China, a terror state like no other, which has killed some 80 million of its own people since 1949. Nor should we ignore China's role in Sudan's genocide or her support for other vile African regimes – like Zimbabwe.

An Olympic boycott was imposed against South Africa by the IOC itself in 1964 because of apartheid; it worked. In 1980, the US and 60 other countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; within three years the USSR was crumbling.

Those who argue against boycotts say that "being there" matters more: I disagree, it just gives comfort to tyrants.

In 1987, President Reagan bluntly told the South Korean junta that, unless it brought in democracy, the US would boycott the 1988 Seoul Olympics: democracy was introduced.

It is time to stop the humbug in this globalising world: sports boycotts work. And it is time to stop the suffering in both China and Zimbabwe.

Edward McMillan-Scott is Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and Humber and is vice-president of the European Parliament and founder of the EU Democracy and Human Rights Initiative