(Reuters) - Human rights activists on Tuesday called for athletes to boycott next year's Winter Olympics in China and put pressure on the International Olympic Committee over the staging of the Games.
Beijing is set to host the Olympics in February 2022, but the IOC has faced criticism over its decision to award the country the Games in light of China's human rights record.
The calls for a full boycott came ahead of a U.S. congressional hearing at which the Winter Olympics and China's human rights record were being discussed.
Representatives of the World Uyghur Congress, Tibet Action Institute, China Against the Death Penalty, Students for a Free Tibet and Campaign for Uyghurs told a media conference that continued alleged human rights violations by China meant they had no option but to seek a full boycott.
"There's still time to make a difference. This does not have to be the end of the story," said Lhadon Tethong, of the Tibet Action Institute. "Athletes have incredible power and the platform to change the world.
"If they can speak out for the right of all people to exist, and to live free from fear and repression... that at this point would make a huge difference. We appeal to the athletes to speak out and use their power because they have a lot."
The IOC did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment, but has said in the past that it is a non-political organisation and takes allegations of human rights violations very seriously.
"Many of the athletes that we are engaged with are incredible people," said Julie Millsap of the Campaign for Uyghurs. "I would just ask them to consider what all of these people who are asking for the boycott have lost.
"This is a horrible position to be in. But this is what's necessary."
Activist Zumretay Arkin of the World Uyghur Congress said more than 50 of his relatives had been detained in China.
"We have lost entire families and relatives and friends," Arkin added. "I urge (the athletes) to put themselves in our shoes. They might lose one Olympic Games but we have lost (our families) for we don't know how long.
"I think it's important for them to use the power they have, because athletes are not just puppets that the IOC or governments can just control."
The Chinese government has denied any human rights violations.
(Reporting by Iain Axon, writing by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris and Dan Grebler)