In Depth

Winter Olympics: controversy ahead of Beijing 2022

The build-up to the games has been marred by boycotts, protests and Covid restrictions

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which are taking place in Beijing in February, have already been marred by controversy despite being three months away. 

On Tuesday, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC), which represents Beijing-based journalists reporting for international publications, released a statement calling on the country’s Olympic organising committee to “improve international reporting conditions in the run-up to, and during, the Games”.

The statement, posted on Twitter, said the FCCC was “concerned about the lack of transparency and clarity” from China’s organising committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “with regards to Olympic-related reporting in China”. 

It added that over the last year, foreign journalists have been “continuously stymied” when attempting to cover China’s preparations for the Winter Olympics, which included observing “the arrival of the Olympic flame”. The FCCC said this was “a stark contrast” to the coverage made possible during the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. 

At a regular press briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the FCCC’s claims and blamed strict Covid-19 restrictions on the tightening of media access. He also noted “that organisers planned to invite more media to future events”, Bloomberg reported.

Pressure to boycott 

The FCCC statement is “the latest sign of tensions between China and the global community over the international sporting event”, Bloomberg added. 

Earlier this year, the World Uyghur Congress, a coalition of more than 180 organisations including exiled Uyghur groups, called on governments to boycott the games because of China’s treatment of its ethnic minorities, describing them as “a genocide Olympics”.

However, Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, rejected the criticism, telling the BBC that the organisation’s decision on where to host the games “is not made with a view to signalling approval of a government policy”.

The G20, the leaders of the world's richest economies who met in Rome last week to discuss matters including climate change, Covid and the global economy, has been repeatedly urged to lead a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics. 

A diplomatic boycott would mean that government representatives would be absent “while allowing athletes to participate in the games”, explained the Olympics news website Inside the Games

So far, no country has agreed to a boycott, but European, British and American lawmakers “have all voted for their diplomats to do so”, said Reuters

Protests and disruption

A torch-lighting ceremony in Greece last month was disrupted by human rights activists waving a Tibetan flag and a banner reading “No Genocide Games”.

According to Reuters, the activists gained access to the ancient Greek stadium where the ceremony was being held by sneaking past a police cordon. 

“While [Greece’s Olympic Committee] respects individual rights to freedom of expression, it is disappointing that this traditional cultural event has been used by a few individuals for other purposes,” read a statement released by the committee in charge of organising the event. 

Demonstrations also took place in Rome during the G20 summit and protests are expected to occur during the Cop26 climate summit which is currently being held in Glasgow.

Covid remains ‘biggest challenge’

But despite all the criticism being levelled at the games, as well as the demonstrations, the Winter Olympic’s Chinese organisers have insisted that Covid has remained the biggest hurdle in making the event a reality. 

Speaking to reporters on 27 October to mark 100 days until the Winter Olympics, organising committee official Zhang Jiandong cited “epidemic prevention and control” as the “biggest challenge” for hosting the Beijing event. 

The committee has made a “strict Olympic bubble” official, said the Associated Press, with those taking part in the games required to remain in a “closed loop” for training, competing, transport, dining and accommodation. 

International spectators and family members are not able to attend and all participants must be fully vaccinated. 

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