Under Fire Beneath the Cold of Beijing

by: Kyrus Pampanga || Photo Credits: The New Yorker

An Olympics like no other: highlighting both the sports and reality of what China is today.

The 2022 Winter Olympics officially commenced last February 4, 2022, at the Chinese capital of Beijing, marking it as the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games. But in contrast to the locality’s jubilant response from 2008, the event pales with pandemic restrictions and months of build-up on international controversy.

The host country has had issues concerning its human rights record, from impounding Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, becoming more aggressive with Taiwan, to crushing pro-democracy activism over Hong Kong. Hence, the event has been dubbed the “genocide games,” and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been met with criticism from human rights groups and NGOs for allowing Beijing to push through as host.

In protest, countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, among others, issued a diplomatic boycott of the Games, evading shows of support from their respective authorities but still sending in athletes.

“The international community must speak out, clearly and with one voice, against Beijing’s crackdown against human rights,” US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared after announcing their country’s snub of the Winter Olympics.

Similar to what transpired in Tokyo, the effects of COVID-19 linger at the Olympics in Beijing. Following a bubble set-up, organizers ensured the games had a “zero-Covid” approach; however, defiant to the plan, the virus prevailed, causing disqualification, cancellations, and isolations.

Athletes also raised concerns about their situation at the quarantine hotels — stating problems including low-quality food, no internet, insufficient facilities, and lack of training equipment — despite being warned by the Beijing Organizing Committee against voicing out any behavior or speech that opposes the Olympic spirit.

“I don’t believe in anything anymore. In no tests. No games. It’s a big joke for me,” Polish speedskater Natalia Maliszewska expressed online. “I cry until I have no more tears and make not only the people around me worry but myself too.”

Further controversies involve the general use of artificial snow where environmentalists define unfavorable, the display of Hanbok during the opening that angered South Korean politicians and citizens, and censorship of the Games on criticism and debate about its potential aftereffects to China.

At present, sporting disputes also arose at events for the Men’s snowboard slopestyle, snowboard halfpipe, speed skating 500 meters, and 5000 meters relay short-track speed skating, among other categories.

Despite claims from both the IOC and China about not involving politics in the Winter Games, the global audience could not simply divert their attention, especially now in a time when news is widely accessible, and tensions from nations have emerged.

“It’s not about whether you support China or don’t support China. It’s about whether you support the growing global norm that freedom of speech and internal movement, all these things are things that we respect as an international community. And if we respect those values, we must say the sportswashing of these issues is a red line.” Pema Doma, a member of the Students for a Free Tibet, said in an interview with DW News.

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