The Olympic flame began its journey to Beijing on Tuesday, three and a half months before the 2022 Winter Games, strongly denounced by human rights defenders, as a communications operation of the Chinese Government.
The Olympic flame has just been extinguished in Tokyo and is rekindled for the Beijing Winter Olympics. The symbol of Olympism began its journey to China, although not without causing controversy: human rights activists call it the “Games of genocide.”
“China has the ambition to organize a safe and splendid Games.” In Athens, the vice chairman of the Beijing-2022 organizing committee, Yu Zaiqing, started the traditional long journey of the flame, lit the day before in Olympia.
The Olympic flame will fly to China, where it should arrive on Wednesday morning before beginning its tour of the Asian giant, until the opening ceremony, on February 4, 2022 at the Beijing National Stadium, the “Bird’s Nest” .
“The Olympic flame is going to travel to the Great Wall and through other parts of China, carrying with it the light of peace and friendship,” Yu Zaiqing declared.
La flamme olympique pour les Jeux d’hiver 2022 de Pékin, which will be held from February 4 to 20, at the site allumée sur le site antique grec d’Olympie se le rituel traditionnel, mais en l’absence de public à cause du Covid- 19 #AFP pic.twitter.com/MCzA7kXEm5
– Agence France-Presse (@afpfr) October 18, 2021
In Beijing, the first city in history to host both a summer and winter Games, some 2,900 athletes from 85 Olympic committees are expected to compete in the Olympics from February 4 to 20. Subsequently, from March 4 to 13, the Paralympic Games will be held.
Due to the pandemic, there were no spectators at the lighting of the flame on Monday at the old site of Olympia, nor at the ceremony of handing over the flame to the organizers on Tuesday at the Panathinaikó Stadium, nor at the torch relay. , whose duration was very short.
The pandemic has prevented us from holding the flame ceremony in the presence of the public, but I am sure that the successful organization and guarantor of the security of the Games will be another victory for humanity against the coronavirus, “said president of the Greek Olympic Committee, Spyros Kapralos.
“No Genocide Games”
Far from being congratulated, human rights defenders protested against the holding of the Olympic Games in China, as they had also done with the 2008 Summer Games.
In particular, they oppose China’s policies in Tibet, Hong Kong and especially in the northwestern province of Xinjiang, against the Uighurs, a Turkish-speaking Muslim minority.
During Monday’s ceremony, several militants attempted to unfurl a Tibetan flag and a banner reading “No Genocide Games”, before being detained by members of the security system.
“It is ‘sportwashing’ (or sports image laundering, a communications operation aimed at masking human rights violations, English name). There is no legitimate reason to host the Games during a genocide,” said Zumretay Arkin, responsible of the Uyghur World Congress.
The United States claims that Beijing carries out a genocide against the Uighurs and other Turkic peoples of Xinjiang, where experts estimate that more than a million people are imprisoned.
Beijing denies the term genocide and describes the camps as vocational training centers, a claim rejected by Uighurs, who say they are forced to renounce their religious traditions.
The IOC hides behind neutrality
According to Zumretay Arkin, this campaign “aimed at exposing the various abuses” of the Chinese regime is stronger than the 2008 campaign against the Beijing Olympics, as it brings together “Uighur communities, from Hong Kong, Tibetan communities, from South Mongolia, Chinese and Taiwanese “.
According to these activists, Hong Kong residents, Tibetans and Uighurs are under “Orwellian” surveillance in China, which they say has worsened after the 2008 Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is legitimizing “one of the worst human rights violations of the 21st century” and smearing the spirit of the Games, said Pema Doma, campaign manager for the organization “Students for a Free Tibet.”
“These Games cannot take place as planned, they must be postponed,” he declared.
The president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, rejected the calls for a boycott, defending the political neutrality of the instance and asking the states to assume their responsibilities.
Bach himself was unable, when he was a fencer, to participate in the 1980 Moscow Games, boycotted by his country, the Federal Republic of Germany, and claimed that a boycott would only harm athletes.
The IOC works on the issue of human rights “within the limits of our competence,” Bach said last March.
This article was adapted from its original in French.