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IOC can live with China’s Olympics politics, but not athletes’ criticism of host country

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(TibetanReview.net, Feb19’22) – China has kept on politicizing the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 in moves designed to boost its global image even as it has been strident in opposing others from allegedly doing so for criticizing its human rights record. And the contrast between the International Olympic committee (IOC)’s tolerance of China for this and its treatment of athletes in Beijing on this issue has been striking, noted thedailybeast.com Feb 18.

Most recently, Yan Jiarong, a Chinese foreign ministry official serving as the spokeswoman for Beijing 2022, blew up the careful facade of political neutrality at the Olympics on Feb 17 when she used a joint press conference with the IOC to launch into political diatribes.

The report noted that in a jaw-dropping performance, Yan repeatedly interrupted as reporters asked IOC spokesman Mark Adams about the repression of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang province, and whether Taiwan had been coerced into participating in the opening and closing ceremonies in Beijing.

“We take a solemn position,” she has declared. “There is only one China in the world. Taiwan is an indivisible part of China, it is a well-recognized international principle. We are always against the idea of politicizing the Olympic Games.”

Yan Jiarong, a Chinese foreign ministry official serving as the spokeswoman for Beijing 2022. (Photo courtesy: AP)

The report said human rights campaigners were quick to attack the IOC for letting China get away with such a blatant politicization of an event during the Games.

IOC President Thomas Bach has maintained at a news conference on Feb 18 that the IOC had not ignored the issue. “We were in touch with [Beijing organizing committee] Bocog immediately after this press conference,” he has said. “And then both organizations, Bocog and the IOC, have restated the unequivocal commitment to remain politically neutral, as it is required by the Olympic Charter.”

While the New York Times has seen this as “a rare and surprising rebuke of a Chinese Olympic official,” the thedailybeast.com report noted that it could equally be understood as saying, “We’ve discussed the problem with our Chinese friends, and agreed that there isn’t actually a problem.”

The report noted that the contrast between Yan’s strident declarations from the press center podium and the treatment of athletes in Beijing, who were warned they would be punished for saying anything political in China, is striking.

It meant that Nils van der Poel, the double speed skating gold medalist, could criticize the IOC’s awarding of the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing only after he returned home to Sweden. “It was extremely irresponsible to award the Games to a country that violates human rights as blatantly as the Chinese Government is doing,” he was quoted as having told reporters.

Nils van der Poel, the double speed skating gold medalist. (Photo courtesy: AP)

The report said journalists, too, had complained of censorship and rough handling by Olympic staff interrupting their reporting from Beijing.

As regards Beijing’s decision to choose a young Uyghur skier to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony in the Bird’s Nest stadium on Feb 4, Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang has told InsideTheGames that it was “like a middle finger to the rest of the world.”

It was, she has added, “as if the Nazis chosen a Jewish athlete to light the cauldron in 1936”—when Adolf Hitler welcomed the Olympics to Berlin, in what must still rank as the lowest point in IOC history.


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