Australia is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics slated for next February amid concerns for the welfare of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, The Sydney Morning Herald reported Thursday.
According to the report, Canberra is mulling not sending any government officials to the Winter Games as calls for a diplomatic boycott are growing among lawmakers. The measure, however, would not prevent Australian athletes from competing.
If Australia decides not to send its government officials, it would join the United States, Britain and Canada in mulling a diplomatic boycott of the global sports event, viewed as a response to China's alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in its far-western Xinjiang region.
International concern has also mounted over the safety of Peng, the Chinese tennis star, after a social media post under her name in early November claimed she had an extramarital affair with former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli when he was a top party official in Tianjin.
Democratic nations have voiced worries that she has been detained by Chinese authorities, despite photos and videos shared by Chinese state media purporting to show Peng happy and well over the last weekend and a 30-minute video call between Peng and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Sunday.
Later Thursday, China lambasted the Australian newspaper report, saying a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics would only harm the interests of athletes all over the world.
"China has always firmly opposed any words and deeds that politicize sports and go against the spirit of the Olympic Charter," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing, adding any attempt to implement such a boycott "will not succeed."
Under one option being considered, Australia would not send any government officials, including its ambassador to China, though it would not publicly call it a boycott, the report by The Sydney Morning Herald said. Sports Minister Richard Colbeck and Foreign Minister Marise Payne are already unlikely to attend, it also said.
The Australian government is waiting for a decision by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, according to the report.
Sen. Eric Abetz from the ruling Liberal party was quoted by the report as saying it looks the United States and Britain are now giving active consideration to a diplomatic boycott.
"I just hope that as each and every voice is added, there will be sufficient momentum for the freedom-loving countries of the world to say to this dictatorship: 'Enough is enough,'" Abetz said, referring to China.
Australia previously sent then Sport Minister Bridget McKenzie to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.