The Beijing Olympics are evolving into the games of intimidation – Archyde

Two weeks until the Olympics and China is slaughtering hamsters. There was a COVID outbreak at a Hong Kong pet shop so orders were given to murder a few thousand hamsters along with some rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs and the occasional small white mouse. China has a zero COVID policy. It will fail, but not before some small mammals feel the darkness fall.

The Beijing Olympics seem to be the authoritarian Olympics through and through. Every Olympics is a reflection of its host: Vancouver was a shaky victory, Brazil almost collapsed, Russia was an orgy of subterfuge and bribery, and in 2008 Beijing created designated protest zones and then arrested and jailed the protesters who showed up. It hasn’t gotten any better since then.

But we return to Beijing, to a game already defined by suspicious testing policies, suspected spyware, athlete intimidation and IOC complicity. Here, too, an improvement seems unlikely.

“My advice for athletes who are there, and my hope for athletes who are going there, is to keep quiet,” Noah Hoffman, a cross-country skier who represented the U.S. at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Games, said during a human rights conference Watch the presentation earlier this week. “There is no guarantee that they will get support.”

The system is perfectly designed for intimidation. Deputy International Relations Director of the Beijing Organizing Committee, Yang Shu, told a news conference earlier this week that “I am sure that any expression consistent with the Olympic spirit will be protected. Any conduct or speech that violates the Olympic spirit, particularly Chinese laws and regulations, is also subject to specific penalties.”

Yang did not specify what the punishment might look like, essentially arming the IOC’s existing opposition to athletes speaking out; Rule 50 of the IOC bans “demonstrations or political, religious or racial propaganda” at Olympic venues, although enforcement of this rule in Tokyo has been weakened on numerous fronts.

But as the Washington Post noted, Yang specifically mentioned that speech could lead to punishment and invoked Chinese law. Last year, when asked about the IOC’s protections and what the Canadian Olympic Committee would say to its athletes when it came to human rights in Beijing, COC CEO David Shoemaker, who was NBA manager in China until 2018, mentioned Hong Kong’s security law came into force two years ago and criminalizes speech that China deems harmful to its national security, inside or outside China.

“Again, this is a complex issue as we must fully support an athlete’s right to freedom of expression. Period,” says Shoemaker. “And yet, at the same time, it’s very important, as we do in preparing for all the Games – Sochi is a great example – to carefully educate our athletes about what the ramifications of this freedom of expression may be in the host country we’re in.”

He assumed the IOC would protect athletes, but the IOC only supported and encouraged tennis star Peng Shuai’s silence. You can see why Human Rights Watch advises athletes to be careful.

“We saw in the Peng Shuai case that the IOC is unwilling or unable to protect athletes,” said Maximilian Klein, sports politician for Germany’s impressive independent athletes’ association. “And the IOC and the Olympic movement have a very sad track record when it comes to protecting athletes.”

China wouldn’t even have to crack down on speeches at the games as it holds a gavel bigger than tearing down accreditations. As part of China’s push for zero COVID — Omicron was already found in the country and quite hilariously attributed to a package from Toronto — they’re using a PCR test cycle threshold of 40, which is more sensitive than the default of 35. Some CBC employees who who traveled to China a week ago tested positive for the remnants of a previous infection and have not been able to put two negative tests together since. It’s worth noting that of the Canadian Olympic team’s contingent — athletes, coaches, support staff, all in all — about 80 of the 620 have tested positive since December 1.

“If you ask me what’s the biggest thing right now, making sure we can bring people to Beijing,” says Dr. Mike Wilkinson, Chief Physician of Team Canada.

A positive PCR test, or even close contact with a positive test, will result in unspecified quarantine and there is no meaningful oversight. According to sources, the international medical tribune overseeing the tests consists of 25 doctors, 20 of whom are Chinese.

As a result, TV rights holders such as NBC and CBC have greatly reduced their delegations in Beijing and will largely broadcast games from their homes; the CBC pulled out anyone with a recent infection. This is on top of the spyware concerns that come with the games – Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto pointed out that the app that participants have to download onto their phones is essentially spyware, with the ability to make phone calls to eavesdrop or gain access to files transfers and includes a handy censorship keyword list of 2,442 words, including Xinjiang or Tibet. (The IOC of course defended the app.)

And the fear of being hacked is real: most media outlets and several delegations take empty laptops and Burner phones, and some leave the laptops in China when they get home; Nothing says international peace and cooperation like worrying about your AirPods being hacked. It’s a grim mess, that’s it. After China was awarded the Games in 2015, the IOC regulated the application process. Sochi’s extravagant cost overruns deterred potential bidders, and second place went to Kazakhstan, which has seen gunfire in the streets amid recent civil unrest. After that it’s Paris, Milan, Los Angeles and sometime after that Brisbane. It gets easier.

First we must march through Beijing. It probably won’t be as bad as what happened to the hamsters and the other small mammals. But it’s an overall shame nonetheless.


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