The 2022 Winter Olympics begin this weekend, and the spectacle has been dubbed the “Genocide Games,” the most controversial games since Hitler’s Berlin Games in 1936. Participating athletes have been warned not to anger the Chinese government by speaking out about its human rights violations, not to be used for Chinese propaganda purposes and to only use burner phones for communication.
At the urging of human rights activists, some of the athletes believe the only safe statement to make is by boycotting the opening ceremony Friday.
Josh Rogin, of The Washington Post, wrote Wednesday that Olympians “are getting ready to boycott” that ceremony in Beijing.
U.S.-based activists have been meeting with Olympic athletes from several Western countries in hopes of convincing them to speak out against China’s “mass atrocities and severe repression of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and other groups inside China.” Fearing Chinese threats of punishment, athletes have mostly kept their mouths shut.
Dorjee Tseten, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), is quoted in Rogin’s story saying: “Athletes, you have a voice, your gesture of solidarity can make a difference”, adding:
“The simple gesture of skipping out on the Opening Ceremonies can be a tremendous opportunity for athletes to show solidarity and compassion towards the Uyghur, Tibetan, Hong Konger and Mongolian communities that have suffered unimaginable human rights violations by the hands of China’s Communist Party.”
No one knows for sure how many athletes will boycott the Opening Ceremonies, but activists told Rogin that athletes from at least two nations will do so. Several athletes said they were fearful of Chinese arrest or being punished by their nation’s Olympic Committee if they engage in any kind of activism. Some concerned athletes told activists groups they would explain a boycott of the Opening Ceremonies only after the games ended. They are afraid that if they explain such a boycott while still in China, they could face punishment from the brutal Chinese regime.
The gutless International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its sponsors have urged athletes to avoid controversy. To which activists told athletes, if you don’t feel safe speaking out, then “skipping the Opening and Closing Ceremonies would at least deny the Chinese government the ability to use those ceremonies to legitimize its abuses and whitewash its crimes.”
Activists circulated a guidance document informing athletes how China might use them for propaganda purposes. They were told to be careful of appearing in photographs with Chinese officials who might be connected to human rights abuses and to avoid posing for photos in front of Chinese slogans they can’t read. Also, they have been told not to let the IOC prevent them from expressing free speech at the Games. They were urged to skip opening and closing ceremonies.
Dorjee told Rogin, “The success of Chinese propaganda at Beijing 2022 rests on athletes’, fans’ and broadcasters’ willingness to treat these games as business as usual.”
Wary of possible Opening Ceremony boycotts, the IOC sent Taiwan’s Olympic committee “several notices … requiring all delegations to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to cooperate in sending personnel to attend the opening and closing ceremonies.”
Rogin also reported that, “this week, Chinese authorities have been spreading propaganda charging the U.S. government with paying athletes to ‘disrupt’ the games, while cracking down on local Chinese dissidents with impunity.”
The research group Citizen Lab reported that the “health monitoring” app all Olympics participants in Beijing were required to download is riddled with security vulnerabilities that may put users’ privacy at risk.
The U.S. State Department has frequently warned American athletes about safety and security issues in China and stated it will “provide security services to all U.S. citizens at the Games,” a spokesperson told Rogin. Also, the Diplomatic Security Service has an agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee to “facilitate cooperation” in the event any U.S. citizen is detained or harassed at the Games.
In conclusion, one wonders how foreign athletes, whose attention is now so focused on personal security, can actually focus their attentions on performing at their best in the communist nation of China.