Opinion: By choosing China to host Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, IOC puts athletes at risk

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Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a freelance defense and security journalist based in Milan, specializing in military affairs and procurement.

Canada’s decision to join the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics alongside the US, UK and Australia has raised concerns about the heavy burden it places on competing athletes. However, the highest price was imposed on them when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the decision in 2015 to host the Games in China, amid deep concerns over human rights violations and athlete safety.

The decision to host Beijing came when tensions between the West and China weren’t so high, before the recent repression in Hong Kong and the detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Nonetheless, more and more information has come to light regarding China’s widespread discrimination and repressive policies against minorities, including Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongols. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch have increasingly reported on the frequent detention and torture in the country of activists and lawyers and the brutal methods used against pro-democracy protesters.

When international events are staged in authoritarian states like China, athletes face the looming threat of becoming primary targets for the country’s security services. Although the IOC claims to have heeded these concerns and that China has signed a host contract agreeing not to engage in surveillance, it is not clear whether the agreement will be honored. After all, we’ve seen in recent years that the IOC’s price tag for rule violations isn’t much to fear.

A diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics would put athletes at risk

Canada joins allies in diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

After Russia was exposed for running a state doping program, the country suffered only a partial ban from participating in the 2018 Olympics, and numerous lifetime bans imposed on Russian athletes who participated. to doping activities were canceled. Following this, Russia retaliated by hacking IOC computers and leaking confidential documents, but the country will still be competing in Beijing and Russian President Vladimir Putin has even accepted an invitation to attend.

The widely reported espionage and surveillance practices that China engages in, ranging from border police covertly installing surveillance apps on tourists’ phones to the alleged spy campaign against Americans via phone networks, raised concerns that athletes would be targeted, tracked or have their data. intercepted. Chinese authorities have long monitored their citizens, justifying the measures as essential for national security and social stability, and they now track information such as political associations, status and preferences through an algorithmic monitoring system. Beijing has reportedly targeted tens of thousands of people, constituting mass surveillance, mainly for the purpose of intelligence gathering and gathering. More recently, in an attempt to digitize banknotes, the Chinese government has increasingly encouraged the use of the digital yuan on smartphones, which can be used not only to track its citizens but also anyone visiting China.

The IOC has been questioned in recent months by the media about its choice of host country for the 2022 Winter Games, but far fewer have been asked about what awaits the athletes when they arrive. Beijing’s recent warnings that boycotting countries “will pay the price for their wrongdoing” and that China will take “resolute countermeasures” have ultimately put Canadian, American, British and Australian athletes at greater risk of harm. ” be subject to the surveillance of the country. practices. The IOC’s response – that it is not a government and unable to dictate a country’s actions – is a shield to hide behind. As the self-proclaimed “keeper” of the Olympic Games, IOC members are those who hold the real power over the selection and, above all, the approval of the organizers of the Games. The reality is that the decision to host the Olympics in China has placed a greater burden on athletes and compromises their very safety.

While it is now too late to reverse the venue of the Games, there are still a number of ways the IOC could try to mitigate the risks. Some of these could include banning the use of or at least warning athletes about the risk of the digital yuan, banning the collection of athletes’ DNA for anti-doping purposes and, most importantly, imposing sanctions. tougher on those found guilty of violating privacy policies. and principles. In the long term, the IOC should also consider creating an international protection law specifically designed to protect athletes’ personal data and information, and requiring all participating and host countries to agree to clear and detailed standards of confidentiality and non-disclosure. disclosure.

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