Beijing Games ready for Olympic torch but wary of protests

A Tibetan activist holds a placard and a Tibetan flag during a protest against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in front of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne on June 23, 2021

A Tibetan activist holds a placard and a Tibetan flag during a demonstration against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in front of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne on June 23, 2021. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

ATHENS – The Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games will be highlighted with the torch-lighting ceremony on Monday in ancient Olympia in Greece, but opposition to the Games continues to be heard.

The Chinese capital will become the first city to host both the Winter and Summer Games when it hosts the event from February 4 to 20, but, as was the case with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the protests and boycott calls over the country’s human rights record spoiled the race.

Rights groups and US lawmakers have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone the Games and move the event unless China ends what the United States sees as an ongoing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups.

Chinese authorities have been accused of facilitating forced labor by detaining around one million Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim minorities in camps since 2016.

China denies any wrongdoing, saying it has set up vocational training centers to fight extremism.

Next week’s ceremony in Olympia, site of the Ancient Games, will be held without spectators and with limited media presence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The handover of the torch to the organizers of the Beijing Games will take place in Athens a day later at an event also without spectators.

Hundreds of Greek police are expected to lock down the sleepy western Peloponnese town for the weekend to ensure there is no disruption in the ceremony.

For police, the lack of crowds will make it easier to save the ceremonies, as authorities desperately seek to avoid a repeat of the protests during the torch-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Summer Games.

PROTESTS

Actress Katerina Lechou, playing a high priestess, lights the Olympic torch, at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on October 31, 2017, during the Olympic torch handover ceremony for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, in South Korea.

Actress Katerina Lechou, playing a high priestess, lights the Olympic torch, at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens on October 31, 2017, during the Olympic torch handover ceremony for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, in South Korea. (Photo by LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

In 2008, Tibetan activists infiltrated the ancient site of Olympia, lighting their own torch before the official ceremony, upsetting Chinese organizers.

Activists also violated strict security measures and halted the Beijing Games torch-lighting ceremony itself, unfurling a banner condemning China’s human rights record at a televised event. worldwide.

They then disrupted the start of the relay in Olympia, marking the start of months of international protests.

“There is increased mobility of the Greek police regarding the lighting of the Beijing torch, especially in relation to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” a Greek official told Reuters, speaking under cover of the anonymity.

“The scenario of a potential disruption is obviously being seriously considered by the police.”

Human rights groups, without revealing details, told Reuters they would be present in Greece during the ceremonies to highlight China’s human rights record and again call on the IOC to stop the Games.

IOC also criticized for awarding two Olympics to China in 14 years, despite what human rights groups say there is no improvement rights since the 2008 Games.

But the IOC Vice-President, John Coates, defended the position of the Olympic body on Wednesday.

“The mission of the IOC is to ensure that there is no abuse of human rights with regard to the conduct of the Games within National Olympic Committees or within the Olympic movement”, said he declared.

“We don’t have the capacity to go to a country and tell them what to do. All we can do is award the Olympics to a country, under conditions set out in a hosting contract … and then make sure they’re followed. “

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