Concerns and controversies at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be hosted in Beijing, China, have been the subject of various concerns and controversies about their cost, environmental impact, and human rights issues.

Organizing concerns and controversies

Cost and climate

Several cities withdrew their applications during the bidding process, citing the high costs or the lack of local support to host the 2022 games, leaving Almaty in Kazakhstan and Beijing as the only candidate cities by 1 October 2014.[1]

The decision to bid for the Olympics was controversial in China (and outside), because Beijing itself, and especially some of the proposed outdoor venues, would not have reliable snowfall in winter for snow sports. Concerns have been raised that snow may need to be transported to the venues at great cost and with uncertain environmental consequences.[2][3]

Promotional song

Some commentators alleged that one of the early promotional songs for the 2022 Winter Olympics, "The Snow and Ice Dance", sung by Sun Nan and Tan Jing, had suspicious similarities with "Let It Go", one of the songs from the 2013 Disney film, Frozen. A Chinese media outlet cited technical analysis of the two songs: both songs employ a piano as the major instrument, have similar prelude chords and an eight-beat introduction, and they run at almost exactly the same tempo.[4][5]

Human rights issues and calls for boycott

Background

Countries that have announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics

After China had won the bid to host the 2022 Olympics, many Tibetan protesters had criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for allowing China to host the games again due to its policies against Tibetans.[6] In the aftermath of the 2019 leak of the Xinjiang papers, the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, China's hostage diplomacy and the Uyghur genocide, calls were made for a boycott of the 2022 Games.[7][8][9][10] In November 2021 the disappearance of former Olympian Peng Shuai after she made allegations of sexual assault against Zhang Gaoli, former Vice Premier of China and a high ranking CCP member, has put pressure on the International Olympic Committee.[11]

Some human rights organizations have called for a diplomatic boycott that would mean countries not sending their heads of state or high-ranking officials to the Olympics but still sending athletes.[12] In a July 30, 2020 letter, the World Uyghur Congress urged the IOC to reconsider holding the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing because of the Uyghur genocide.[13][14] The World Uyghur Congress does not support a full boycott; instead, they want athletes to use the games as a chance to raise awareness about the Uyghur genocide, similar to the way that athletes have raised the profile of the Black Lives Matter movement.[15] The IOC met with activists in late 2020 about their request to move the Olympics.[16] In March 2021, the IOC president Thomas Bach opposed a boycott, which would also damage the IOC image and finances, and said that the IOC must stay out of politics.[16] On 14 October 2021, the executive vice-president of the IOC, John Coates, said that the IOC would not challenge the Chinese government over the issue of the Uyghurs, stating that it was "not within the IOC's remit".[17]

On 23 June 2021 (Olympic Day), multiple Tibetan, Uyghur, Hongkonger, Chinese, Taiwanese and Southern Mongolian representatives staged protests in 50 cities worldwide, calling for a mass boycott.[18]

On 7 September 2021, human rights groups called on Olympics broadcasters, including NBC, to cancel the broadcasting plans for 2022 Olympics due to China's human rights issue.[19]

United States diplomatic boycott

In October 2018, Senator Marco Rubio, on behalf of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, asked that China be deprived of the hosting rights for the 2022 Olympics due to the "dire human rights situation" there.[20] In September 2020, United States Senator Rick Scott spoke with the IOC Vice President about reconsidering the IOC's decision to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in China.[21] On 25 February 2021, U.S. Representative John Katko stated that China is "a country that's engaged in genocide" and called upon the United States to boycott participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics.[22] In March 2021, Senator Mitt Romney called for an "economic and diplomatic boycott" of the 2022 Winter Olympics, in which U.S. athletes would still participate, but no American spectators or dignitaries would attend.[23] In May 2021, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called for a diplomatic boycott and said heads of state should not "honor China" by attending the Olympic Games.[24] In July 2021, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China called on the IOC to relocate or postpone the games.[25]

In April 2021, it was reported that the Biden administration was "not discussing any joint boycott with allies and partners."[26]

In a survey taken in August 2021, 49 percent of Americans believe that China’s human rights record should prevent it from hosting the winter Olympics in 2022 and 33 percent are not sure.[27]

On 18 November 2021, President Joe Biden said the U.S. is "considering" a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.[28] Some, like US senator Tom Cotton, called for a full boycott of the games, which would bar U.S. athletes from competing and bar U.S. companies from sponsoring the games.[29] Due to a change in the last version of the Olympic Charter, a full boycott by the United States, like the one at the 1980 Summer Olympics, could result in the most severe punishment, which is the suspension by the National Olympic Committee for 2 years of the Olympic Games, a similar situation to what happened with North Korea in the 2020 games.[30]

On 6 December 2021, White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, announced that the Biden administration would initiate a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics and the 2022 Winter Paralympics. The diplomatic boycott would bar all US government officials from attending the games in an official capacity. The White House cited China's mistreatment of the Uyghur people as the reason for the boycott. The White House said it stopped short of a full boycott, because "it would not be fair to punish athletes who have trained for years".[31]

Australian diplomatic boycott

China's alleged use of coercive diplomacy against Australia has led to increased calls within Australia to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics. In November 2020, Australian Senators Jacqui Lambie and Rex Patrick officially proposed a boycott, but their proposal was voted down.[32] Australia has decided that no Australian based politician or officials will be attending the games, and Canberra has also refused to sign the Olympic Truce for the 2022 Winter Olympics.[citation needed]

On 7 December 2021, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that Australia would join with the United States in the diplomatic boycott of the 2022 games. He stated that it was, "Human rights abuses", referencing the ongoing genocide of Uyghur muslims in China's Xinjiang region, as well as, "Many other issues that Australia has consistently raised". He went on to state that it was "No surprise" that Canberra would do this following consistent deterioration of relations between Canberra and Beijing. Morrison also stated that the decision was, "In Australia's national interest," and that it is the, "Right thing to do".[citation needed]

Calls for boycotts by other countries

In a non-binding motion in February 2021, the Canadian House of Commons called for the IOC to move the Olympics to a new location.[33] In a nationwide survey conducted in March 2021, 54% of Canadians said the country should boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, while 24% believed it should not and 21% were not sure.[34]

In July 2021, the European Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom voted in favor of a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics.[35][36]

On 19 November 2021, 17 members of the Lithuanian national parliament Seimas released an official letter encouraging Lithuania to withdraw from the 2022 Olympics due human rights violations in China.[37] Daina Gudzinevičiūtė, president of National Olympic Committee of Lithuania, released a statement that Olympic games should be politically neutral and confirmed that committee has no plans to boycott the games.[38][39] Lithuania's president, Gitanas Nauseda, released a statement confirming the Lithuanian diplomatic boycott on 3 December 2021. This was due to concerns of human rights abuses in China.

On 8 December 2021, the United Kingdom and Canada joined the United States and Australia, whom both announced diplomatic boycotts of the 2022 Winter Olympics.[40][41][42]

In December 2021, the governments in Estonia and in Latvia said, there will be no diplomats in China.[43]

In January 2022, the government in Sweden said, there will be no Swedish diplomats in China.[44] Also in January 2022, the governments in Denmark and in the Netherlands said, there will be no diplomats in China.[45]

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in changes in qualifying for curling and women's ice hockey due to the cancellation of tournaments in 2020. The World Curling Federation proposed that qualification for curling be based on placement in the 2021 world championships and a dedicated qualification tournament to complete the field (in place of points earned across the 2020 and 2021 world championships). The IIHF based its qualification for the women's tournament upon existing IIHF World Rankings, without holding the 2020 Women's World Championship.[46][47] The Asian Winter Games was also not held before this Olympics, potentially affecting the qualifications for some athletes.[citation needed]

On 23 December 2021, the National Hockey League (NHL) announced it will not be sending players to the Games, citing health and safety concerns, and a need to use the timeframe of the Olympics to make up the large number of games postponed since December 2021 due to Omicron variant.[48][49][50]

Environmental and health issues

Impact on Songshan National Nature Reserve

The environmental impact of hosting the Games near Beijing has been questioned. Some of the proposed venues will be adjacent to the Songshan National Nature Reserve and part of the same mountain system, and the environmental impact on the nature reserve of construction, and artificially covering parts of the mountain with snow, is uncertain.[51][52][53]

Censorship

Domestic Chinese criticism and debate on the potential environmental impacts caused by the Games are censored by the Chinese government on the press and internet.[54][55][53] In recent years, censorship has been significantly stepped up. The government has banned for example Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and since 2019 Wikipedia.[56]

The Citizen Lab report on the My2022 app (see below) discovered a "censorship keywords" list built into the app, and a feature that allows people to flag other "politically sensitive" expressions. The list of words included the names of Chinese leaders and government agencies, as well as references to the 1989 killing of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, and the religious group Falun Gong.[57]

Espionage directed at athletes

China's espionage of athletes serves its political interests as well as addresses safety and COVID concerns. The smartphone app associated with the games, My2022, has been a particular subject of espionage concern.[58]

All attendees to the Games, including athletes, audience members, and media, are required to use the My2022 app purportedly for daily Covid monitoring. The cybersecurity group Citizen Lab, a research institute at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, warned that the My2022 app fails to provide encryption on many of its files, and has security weaknesses that leave users exposed to data breaches. The Citizen Lab disclosed the concerns about the app on December 3, 2021, giving the organizing 15 days to respond and 45 days to fix the issues. A new iOS version of MY2022 was released on January 6, 2022 which failed to fix these problems, while adding a new “Green Health Code” feature that collects more medical data and also lacks SSL certificate validation making it vulnerable to attacks.[59]

Numerous Olympic committees, including the British Olympic Association, the Australian Olympic Committee, Canadian Olympic Committee, NOC*NSF, and United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, have recommended that attendees use burner phones, virtual private networks (VPNs), and create email accounts for their time in China, while leaving personal smartphones and laptops at home.[60][61][62]

Cyber security firm Internet 2.0 has also warned of potential security risks during the Olympics, when it examined the technology sponsors of the Games and their products that show "the sophisticated and broad surveillance culture that exists in China". Internet 2.0 noted that "China's national data security laws are not designed with the Western values of privacy and liberty and do not offer the same level of protection" as the laws allow the government to request access to the user data captured by these products.[63]

Sportswashing

Critics say that the 2022 Winter Olympics is being used by the Chinese government for the purpose of sportswashing, a practice by which a country uses sporting events to distract from human rights abuses or other issues.[64]

Team Russia

On 9 December 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned Russia from all international sport for a period of four years, after the Russian government was found to have tampered with lab data that it provided to WADA in January 2019 as a condition of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency being reinstated. As a result of the ban, WADA will allow individually cleared Russian athletes to take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics under a neutral banner, as instigated at the 2018 Winter Olympics. The title of the neutral banner has yet to be determined; WADA Compliance Review Committee head Jonathan Taylor stated that the IOC would not be able to use "Olympic Athletes from Russia" (OAR) as it did in 2018, emphasizing that neutral athletes cannot be portrayed as representing a specific country.[65][66][67]

Russia later filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the WADA decision.[68] The Court of Arbitration for Sport, on review of Russia's appeal of its case from WADA, ruled on December 17, 2020, to reduce the penalty that WADA had placed. Instead of banning Russia from sporting events, the ruling allowed Russia to participate at the Olympics and other international events, but for a period of two years, the team cannot use the Russian name, flag, or anthem and must present themselves as "Neutral Athlete" or "Neutral Team". The ruling does allow for team uniforms to display "Russia" on the uniform as well as the use of the Russian flag colors within the uniform's design, although the name should be up to equal predominance as the "Neutral Athlete/Team" designation.[69]

Athlete's freedom of speech

In January 2022 the Beijing Organizing Committee warned that "Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment."[70]

Competitors have been warned by Human Rights Watch that speaking out is not tolerated in China and as a result if they speak out about human rights or other issues in China they face significant legal penalties. For their protection the American team has been shielded from question related to human rights.[71]

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