Athletes at the Beijing Winter Olympics (4-20 February) who do not conform with the Olympic spirit or Chinese laws may risk sanctions, Beijing officials said on Wednesday. This warning was issued in response to questions about potential athlete protests.
As the Games approach, the number of countries criticising China’s human rights violations grows. The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom have decided to boycott the Games and will not be sending any diplomatic representatives. Minister-President Jan Jambon (N-VA) recently echoed this decision, stating Flanders will not send any ministers or officials to the Games.
Flanders was not the only Belgian region to make this decision. Walloon Minister for Health Christie Morreale (PS) announced today that “no member of the Walloon government will go to China for the Olympic Games.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has relaxed some of their positions regarding athletes’ expression of political and social opinions. These measures came after numerous mild protests at the summer Games in Tokyo last July.
However, the IOC also stressed that any form of protest, or political or religious propaganda, remains forbidden during competitions, podium ceremonies or in the Olympic Village.In December, the IOC declared that athletes would be allowed to express themselves during the Games but would have to comply with the host country’s laws.
It is not entirely clear what sanctions Chinese authorities would impose on any athlete that does fall foul of its rules. But it is evident that they wish to prevent athletes from using thier platform to criticise the country’s well-publicised human rights abuses – be it the detention of Uighurs or the heavy-handed suppression of pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong.