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Editorial: Olympic principles must not be forgotten as Beijing Winter Games begin

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics officially begin on Feb. 4. They are being held amid the coronavirus pandemic and worsening confrontation between the United States and China.

    The 2022 Olympics are Beijing's first since it held the 2008 Summer Olympics, and make the city the first in the Games' history to hold both a summer and winter edition since the Winter Olympics' inception in 1924.

    China has grown to become the second largest economy in the world, and it is attempting to consolidate its international standing with this second Games. Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed the superiority of the country's political system, stating, "We will improve confidence in the Chinese people's magnificent recovery."

    What's worrisome is whether China will make the national pride-building goal of holding the Games explicit during the events.

    Schisms in the international community, too, are casting a shadow over the Games.

    Countries including the U.S. and U.K. have strongly criticized China's human rights record. For the Beijing Olympics, this has taken the form of a diplomatic boycott -- not sending diplomatic or political figures to the 2022 Games -- over oppression of the Uyghur minority in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Japan, too, has forgone sending high-ranking government officials, and the National Diet has adopted a resolution expressing concerning over the state of human rights in China.

    But Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the Games' Opening Ceremony, and hold talks with President Xi. Russia is currently facing off against the U.S. and Europe over Ukraine, and is growing closer to China. Divisions between Europe and U.S. on one side and Russia and China on the other appear to have been brought to the Games, too.

    For past Games, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted the Olympic Truce calling for conflicts worldwide to be halted around and during the Games. But this time the approach is in disorder; the 173 countries including China that have proposed the truce do not include Japan, the U.S., Australia, or India.

    There has also been confusion over what name to give the delegation of athletes from Taiwan. They had intended to participate under the Chinese Taipei name used up until now, but in response to the Chinese government press secretary calling them by a name that suggested they were part of the People's Republic of China, the Taiwanese delegation said for a time that it would not attend the opening and closing ceremonies.

    It is hard to say that the situation around the Beijing Olympics is consistent with the Olympic ideal of a "festival of peace." In its Fundamental Principles of Olympism, the Olympic Charter states, "The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind." Involved countries must think back to these founding principles, and keep in mind not to use the Olympics for political ends.

    To prevent coronavirus infections spreading, countermeasures stricter even than those at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in summer 2021 are being taken. Not just athletes and affiliates, but reporters too are limited to activities inside the "bubble" system denying them contact with people from outside.

    China touts its "zero-COVID strategy," but already a large number of infections have been confirmed among related parties. It is a matter of course that thorough countermeasures be carried out during the Games themselves. But, China should prevent itself from going too far with managing and surveilling individuals. There are concerns that the health monitoring app used by Games-affiliated people could extract personal data. Some delegations are not bringing their personal computers and smartphones with them.

    Respect for human rights is a way of thinking that comprises the backbone of the Games.

    In 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) relaxed parts of its rules forbidding political, religious and racial proclamations. They did so on the condition that specific individuals and countries are not made the targets of such statements.

    In response, at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, athletes expressed their opposition to racism and oppression by countries through actions at the competition venues and over social media.

    But the organizing committee for the upcoming Games announced participants must abide by China's laws and rules, and that they could be subject to punishments. International human rights group Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over China's approach, and said that because China's laws are vague, free speech is subject to crackdowns.

    It is unthinkable that the world will accept heavy-handed Games management that threatens punishments. There must be an environment where young people from countries across the world can freely exchange words and deepen relationships. Athletes cannot be unfairly blocked from expressing their thoughts.

    The IOC has a responsibility to protect athletes' safety and to provide them with a stage to perform where they can focus on their competitions.

    Issues linger over the deletion of a social media post by Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, in which she claimed to have been forced into a sexual relationship with a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party. IOC President Thomas Bach had an online meeting with Peng, but detailed information was not forthcoming. We seek an explanation that dispels distrust.

    The world's people come together to share the joy of sport while surpassing distinctions of race, religion, gender and nationality. To realize a celebration of this kind, participating countries should look back to the Olympics' founding spirit of harmony.

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