Xi Games 3: Athletes also told to toe the Chinese party line

February 3, 2022

TOKYO – In a park in central Beijing, a bust of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach was unveiled in January. It was made in a style similar to two other busts already installed there of Bach’s predecessors, Jacques Rogge and Juan Antonio Samaranch. Alongside these busts is another statue that was already in place, that of a seated Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games.

Together they symbolize the friendly relationship between China and the IOC.

Bach, in particular, was clearly on the side of China.

After tennis star Peng Shuai alleged that former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her, her whereabouts in China remain unknown. It was Bach who then held a videoconference with Peng in November last year, a typical case of the IOC chief trying to defuse controversies surrounding China.

Some Western countries, including the United States and Britain, are diplomatically boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympics. During a meeting Bach had with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Jan. 25, he made remarks seen as in line with the Chinese leader’s wishes.

Bach said that since there are nations participating in the Winter Olympics for the first time, the Beijing Games have won support from a wide swath of the international community. He added that the international community also opposes the politicization of sport.

Despite Bach’s words supporting Beijing, only 25 countries will send heads of government to the opening ceremony, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s announcement on January 28.

Granted, the Beijing Winter Olympics are taking place amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the numbers are down sharply from the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, when more than 80 countries, including Japan and the United States, sent heads of government.

The countries present on this occasion are mainly those with which China has close ties, such as Russia and Kazakhstan.

A person from a Chinese newspaper who worked as a foreign correspondent lamented, “The impression that this is a gathering of China’s inner circle is undeniable.

■ Political message

The February 4 opening ceremony could also be an opportunity for China to show its inward-looking vision.

Zhang Yimou, the filmmaker who staged the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Games in 2008, is back at the helm of the 2022 Games.

In a recent interview with Chinese media, Zhang echoed Xi’s diplomatic slogan of “a community with a shared destiny for mankind”, placing the building of this “big idea” as the theme of the opening ceremony. What he suggests is that the political vision of the Chinese president, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China, will form a guideline for the ceremony.

For the 2008 Olympics, the opening ceremony had China’s long history and culture proudly displayed as its centerpiece.

Despite this, the international community surely had “dim hopes that China would be a great open power that would integrate with the rest of the world”, a Southeast Asian diplomatic source said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao said at a banquet with foreign heads of government that hosting the Beijing Olympics will enhance mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese people and the peoples of all other countries.

This time, there are no signs of such expectations. Bearing in mind foreign criticism of China’s human rights situation, Xi made it clear at a ceremony in July last year on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the party’s founding: We will not, however, accept the moralizing sermons of those who believe they have the right to lecture. we.”

■ Muzzled athletes

Twitter and other online services blocked by mainland Chinese authorities can be accessed in the Athletes’ Village and media centers which opened on January 27. Restrictions have only been eased within these bubbles, which are sealed off from the general public in order to prevent infections with the novel coronavirus.

The prevailing view, however, according to a human rights lawyer, is that the Chinese authorities are only trying to improve China’s image, as the government has been criticized for its strict speech regulations.

At a press conference on January 19, a senior official of the Beijing Games Organizing Committee said: “Any behavior or speech contrary to the Olympic spirit, especially Chinese laws and regulations, is also liable to certain penalties.

The remark was interpreted as a warning to athletes and other visitors not to criticize human rights issues in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or elsewhere in China.

Games athletes playing in this “peace festival” are under pressure from China’s inward-looking logic.

“Silence is complicity and that’s why we have concerns,” said Rob Koehler, chief executive of Global Athlete, an athlete rights group, according to a Reuters report.

“We think there really isn’t a lot of protection that will be given to athletes,” he said. “So we advise athletes not to talk. We want them to be competitive and use their voice when they go home.

— This three-part series was created by Yomiuri Shimbun’s Chinese correspondents Daisuke Kawase, Rie Tagawa and Sayaka Nambu. Speech

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