China Warns Athletes Against Speaking Out at Olympics

'Certain punishment' awaits, official says
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2022 7:10 PM CST
China Warns Athletes Against Speaking Out at Olympics
People walk by a Beijing Winter Olympics mascot on display near the barricaded Main Press Center (MPC) in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.   (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

The Winter Olympics in Beijing kick off in a little over two weeks—and China has issued a stern warning to athletes who might be thinking about supporting calls to free Tibet or liberate Hong Kong. Yang Shu, deputy director general of international relations for the Beijing Organizing Committee, said Tuesday that while free expression in line with the "Olympic spirit" will be allowed, "any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations" will be "subject to certain punishment." The International Olympic Committee doesn't allow political protest at the Games, but Yang's remarks raise concerns that China will be applying standards a lot stricter than those of the IOC, the Washington Post reports.

Yang declined to comment on how foreign athletes might be punished for political expression at the Games, which are being boycotted by many Western diplomats because of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere. Cross-country skier Noah Hoffman, who represented the US in 2014 and 2018, tells Reuters that his teammates are "being shielded about questions on these issues for their own safety." He says he's upset that athletes aren't being allowed to field questions on human rights issues, though he would advise them to "stay silent because they are not only going to be prosecuted by the Chinese authorities, but they could also be punished by the IOC."

Rob Koehler, director general of the Global Athlete advocate organization, says it's "ridiculous" that they're having to tell athletes not to discuss human rights, the IOC has left them little choice by not saying that they will be protected, the Guardian reports. So we’re advising athletes not to speak up. We want them to compete, and use their voice when they get home." The U S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee has advised athletes to “assume that every device and every communication, transaction, and online activity will be monitored," the AP reports. (More 2022 Beijing Olympics stories.)

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