COVID-19, human rights concerns cloud Beijing Winter Olympics as one-year countdown begins

BEIJING: The countdown to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics hit the one-year mark on Thursday (Feb 4), with preparations overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns over alleged human rights abuses, together with a mass incarceration in Xinjiang.

The Winter Olympics are scheduled to start on Feb 4, 2022, simply six months after the Tokyo Summer Games, which have been pushed again one yr due to the pandemic.

With the worldwide well being disaster displaying no indicators of abating, Tokyo’s destiny stays unsure regardless of Japan’s insistence that it’ll go forward.

China says its build-up has not been affected, and that every one 12 competitors venues – which embrace new websites and a few revamped from the 2008 Summer Olympics – have been accomplished, in response to state media.

The 'Ice Ribbon' stadium will host speed skating at the 2022 Winter Olympics

The ‘Ice Ribbon’ stadium will host pace skating on the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (File picture: AFP/Wang Zhao)

On Wednesday, a coalition of 180 marketing campaign teams demanded a boycott by world leaders “to ensure they are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent”.

A gaggle of United States senators mentioned Beijing ought to be stripped of the Games, though the White House mentioned there was no change to the official stance of the US.

China has dismissed such calls, describing them as “very irresponsible” and politically motivated.

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Striking an upbeat tone final month, President Xi Jinping mentioned: “Not only will we host a successful Winter Olympic extravaganza, but also a spectacular Games with unique characteristics.”

But the 12-month countdown to the primary Winter Olympics in China seems set to start with little fanfare.

In August 2007, one yr earlier than Beijing staged the 2008 Summer Games, an estimated 10,000 folks packed Tiananmen Square for a spectacular ceremony.

The Shougang Big Air venue will hosst freestyle skiing and snowboarding

The Shougang Big Air venue will host freestyle snowboarding and snowboarding. (File picture: AFP/Greg Baker)

COVID-19 makes massive public gatherings not possible although China, the place the coronavirus emerged late final yr, has introduced the outbreak largely underneath management with lockdowns, mass testing and journey restrictions.

A current small uptick in circumstances, together with within the capital, has put China’s ruling Communist Party on edge.

The native organising committee failed to answer requests for remark about how the continued well being alert would possibly impression the Games, together with whether or not spectators may be barred.

READ: China reports 25 new mainland COVID-19 cases

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) mentioned in a press release to AFP that it’s “identifying possible scenarios we may face in Beijing next year”.

A “task force” together with IOC, Chinese and World Health Organization officers “is closely monitoring the global health situation, advancement and distribution of vaccines, testing methods and other major health and hygiene developments in relation to COVID-19”, it mentioned.


China hopes the Games will boost the popularity of winter sports at dwelling and present the nation in a constructive gentle overseas.

But there’s rising worldwide concern over human rights, particularly the destiny of China’s Uighur minority.

Rights teams imagine that not less than 1 million Uighurs and different Turkic-speaking Muslims are incarcerated in camps within the western area of Xinjiang.

READ: US ‘deeply disturbed’ by reports of systematic rape of Muslims in China camps

READ: US to block cotton from China’s Xinjiang region targeted in crackdown

China is accused of compelling Uighurs to parrot Communist propaganda and surrender Islam, forcibly sterilising girls and imposing a regime of compelled labour, all in an alleged effort to eradicate their identification.

The former Trump administration labelled it “genocide”.

After initially denying the camps existed, China’s authorities abruptly acknowledged them, saying they have been vocational coaching centres aimed toward lowering the enchantment of Islamic extremism.

International Tibet Network activists staged a protest this week at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne

International Tibet Network activists staged a protest this week on the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne. (Photo: AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)

The IOC informed AFP that concerns raised by marketing campaign teams, together with over rights, “were and are raised with the government and local authorities”.

“The Olympic Games are the world’s most powerful symbol of unity in all our diversity,” the IOC mentioned.

But Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, mentioned the already poor rights setting has deteriorated “exponentially” because the 2008 Beijing Games, which have been seen as a coming-out occasion for the world’s most populous nation.

“At minimum, the IOC has to be honest about the context in which these Games will take place,” she mentioned.

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