WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES 2022: WHAT MADE CHINA THE CONTROVERSIAL HOST?

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The Olympic Games is a major international multi-sport event hosted once every four years. China hosted the most recent Winter Olympics from 4th to 20th February 2022. Over 3,000 athletes participated in 109 events. The Paralympics also took place following the Olympics, and over 750 athletes participated in these games.

Mayor of Beijing Chen Jining (left) handing over the Olympic flag to International Olympic Committee President
Thomas Bach (right)

Image courtesy- Olympics.com

However, rather than focusing on the athletic essence of the games, the event was overshadowed by the diplomatic boycott declared by various countries. These include the United States of America, the United Kingdom, India, Australia, Denmark etc.

Why the Diplomatic Boycotts?

The reasons stated for this action are multiple. Firstly, finalising China as the host nation for the Winter Olympics post the outbreak of Covid-19 was not welcomed by various countries, as Wuhan was the central point of the virus outbreak. The controversial saga does not end here. Nations stated various other reasons for making this move of declaring a diplomatic boycott. These include various environmental issues and cyber security issues. Nevertheless, the most important one is the human rights atrocities against the Uighur Muslims in the northwest province of Xinjiang.

China’s repression of Uighurs is the most prominent reason for many nations boycotting the Olympic Games.
Image courtesy- Aljazeera

Understanding a ‘Diplomatic Boycott’

A diplomatic boycott in this scenario meant that the countries did not send their official government delegations to Beijing during the games. As the Olympics hold great international significance, delegations from each country attend the games as ‘VIP visitors’. A diplomatic boycott meant that these VIP guests did not travel to China to attend the opening ceremony and the games. However, the contingent of athletes from the countries practising the boycott remained ineffective. 

Right from the beginning, the West was highly critical of China on the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan in 2020.
Image courtesy- Reuters

Now, even though this action did not directly affect the participation in the games, this was seen as a robust diplomatic move against various controversies happening in China. 

Human Right Atrocities against the Uighur Muslims 

The most alarming issue acknowledged by most countries who declared the boycott was the human rights violation against the Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. Many international human rights groups have reiterated that over one million Uighurs have been reportedly detained in ‘re-education camps. Reports say that China has used the Uighurs for forced labour. Moreover, they forcefully sterilised women. The former camp detainees allege that they were tortured and abused both physically and sexually. 

The re-education camps are a secretive internment network. The Chinese Government uses these to slowly strip off the religious and other freedoms of the Uighurs.

As per reports, China has around 380 detention centres in Xinjiang.
However, the Chinese Government refer to these as vocational skills education.
Image courtesy- Aljazeera

Worsening the situation further is the accusation of implementing the Hong Kong Security Law. Beijing uses this law to restrict the freedom of the pro-democratic Hong Kong people.

“Beijing’s repression- insisting on political loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party-deepened across the country.”

Human rights watch annual world report, 2021

To know more about the China-Hong Kong issue, read Democracy under threat! Decoding the protests in Hong Kong!

China suppressed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movements by violating all sorts of human rights of the Hong Kong people.
Image courtesy- Reuters

Hence, considering China’s dire human rights situation, the USA announced a diplomatic boycott on the Winter Olympics in December 2021 and urged other nations to stand in solidarity with the Uighur Minority. 

India Boycotting the Winter Olympic Games

The reason for a diplomatic boycott by India was a little different. The People’s Liberation Army regimental commander Qi Fabio, who led the skirmishes against India during the Galway clash in 2020, was announced as one of the torchbearers. For India, this was an intensely politicised move on behalf of the Chinese government. Additionally, the games and the closing ceremony were not aired in India to show that they were entirely against promoting a political vendetta amidst such a huge international event. 

Other Problems Persistent During the Olympic Games

The controversy surrounding the Olympics 2022 did not end with the diplomatic boycott but continued to extend throughout the entirety of the events, like many players, coaches and teams at large faced multiple problems-

  • Poor quarantine facilities

Many participants complained that the quarantine facilities provided were inferior. Belgian athlete Kim Meylemans was supposed to be shifted to a village post quarantine. Instead, the authorities took her to another quarantine facility. After she posted this on social media, the Belgian Olympic official team and the International Olympic Committee had to intervene to solve the issue. 

Accommodations for athletes at the Olympic Village in the Beijing zone
Image courtesy- Olympics.com
  • Inadequate Catering and Food Services

The food provided was also poor. As the Olympics is an international event, one might expect hot meals for tired participants, but instead, there were crisps, nuts, chocolates and similar items.

  • Cyber Security Threats via the Covid-19 monitoring Application

The app used for Covid-19 monitoring also had fragile security, which meant that the medical data was prone to be leaked or hacked. Keeping the same possibility in mind, various teams were advised only to carry and use burner phones. 

  • Sports Controversies

During the mixed team ski jumping event, previous gold medalists have disqualified because their jumpsuits were not tight enough and would help them take advantage of the air. Post this event, one of the disqualified participants expressed her dissatisfaction with this decision, as she had worn the same jumpsuit during the individual ski jumping event two days before. This action heavily impacted the competing teams, as they directly received zero points. Many other players were also discriminated against and faced disqualifications based on unfair decisions.

China’s Response to the Situation

The Chinese government was very upfront about this situation and stated that it would not hesitate from sanctioning the countries boycotting it. Later it also stated that it would not send any formal invite to the officials planning to impose the diplomatic boycott on the games. As for the controversies that occurred during the games, like inadequate and poor food, cyber threats etc., the Chinese government denied all such claims. 

Analysis of the Olympic Games Situation 

If anything, controversies were the highlight of the entire series of events hosted during the Winter Olympics in China. From human rights issues to controversial decisions during the games, the problems were multiple. China also took the opportunity to intertwine and promote its political agendas through this event.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attending the Winter Olympic Games 2022, in China

Due to unfair disqualifications, the participants had to bear the brunt of inadequate food services, poor cyber safety while using the Covid-19 monitoring app, and prejudice. All in all, this directly impacted the sanctity of the Olympics. The nations declared a diplomatic boycott against China in the wake of the human rights violations against the Uighurs. However, this also affected the games and the essence of hosting an international-level multi-sports event. 

The IOC remains neutral and states it has nothing to do with the Olympics venue or the persisting problems in that country. For instance, human rights violations. However, it is imperative to analyse the country’s internal matters before finalising it as the host for the Olympics. This might negatively impact the games. It could also attract international response towards the other alarming issues in that country since they could not entirely ignore something like human rights atrocities.

The National Stadium, Beijing, was the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games 2022.
Image courtesy- Olympics.com

Therefore it becomes quintessential to acknowledge and address such alarming issues separately rather than intermingling. It could only lead to more controversy. In this case, the international attention towards the human rights issues in Xinjiang is an essential step towards an effort to eliminate discrimination.

Conclusion

Overall, the world witnessed a conundrum of controversies during the Olympics. Rather than staying focused on the multiple sports events that allow the participants to work as a team and represent their nations, the event became a source to promote other agendas. However, for the sole reason of hosting it in Beijing, the controversies had a detrimental effect on the Olympics.

About the author

NIKITA CHAUHAN

Nikita has a penchant for reading and writing, and naturally, she is a research enthusiast. Being a law student specialising in International Trade and Investment Law, her interest areas include Intellectual Property Law, Cyber Law, and International Law. She has written various articles and research papers about global issues related to IPRs and Cyber laws to acknowledge these issues, address potential solutions, and spread awareness.

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