Beijing Preparations for the Olympic Games are in full swing in Beijing. Not only the sports facilities should be in perfect shape. Since mid-November, all people entering Beijing have also had to show a negative Covid test that is no older than 48 hours. This is to prevent new Covid cases from occurring in the 20 million-inhabitant metropolis before the big sporting event. Long queues of annoyed commuters are already forming in front of the checkpoints on the outskirts.
But it is not only because of how it is dealing with the pandemic that China is under fire around 70 days before the Winter Olympics. The organizers of the games are accused of obstructing reporting, while athletes complain about the adverse conditions under which test runs for the games took place. And now the incident involving tennis player Peng Shuai also casts a bad light on Beijing. What was planned as a major prestige event for the Chinese government threatens to turn into a debacle.
Over the past few days, an international debate has flared up around the well-known Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai that is drawing ever wider circles. After the 35-year-old publicly accused former Chinese Vice Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli of sexually abusing her in early November, Peng disappeared.
Among other things, the World Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) then expressed great concern about them. On Friday, the US government spokeswoman said US President Joe Biden wanted “reliable” evidence of Peng’s welfare. Chinese state media then tried to use video recordings of the missing tennis player and a letter allegedly written by her to prove that she was fine.
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On Sunday even the International Olympic Committee (IOC) got involved. IOC President Thomas Bach had a 30-minute video conversation with Peng Shuai together with the chairman of the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho. “She seemed relaxed,” said Terho. “I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was fine, which was our main concern.” But observers have serious doubts about this. Human Rights Watch called Peng’s disappearance a “warning for the Olympics.”
Alleged obstruction of reporting
Dealing with journalists who, as is customary at major sporting events, wanted to report on the preparations in the run-up to the Olympic Games in China has also been sharply criticized internationally. The Club of Foreign Correspondents in China (FCCC) complained in a long statement at the beginning of November about the poor conditions for reporting on the preparations for the Winter Olympics. The journalists were “continuously hindered” in their research, it said.
Participation in routine events was denied and visits to sports facilities in China were prevented. “My repeated requests for access to the Olympic ski area have been rejected since 2020,” said a representative of a European publication for the record.
Interview requests for athletes, their coaches and officials have all been rejected, and access to winter sports test matches has been denied. “The only access we were given was to film an empty ice rink,” said the media representative. The Chinese Foreign Ministry rejected the criticism, but promised to invite more foreign media representatives to events.
The international pressure on China has increased steadily over the past few months. US President Joe Biden said last week that he was considering a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics.
According to media reports, the British government is also considering this. So far, hardly any high-ranking representative of foreign governments has announced that he or she will be attending the Olympic Games. Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the few who announced that he wanted to attend the sporting event.
The reluctance of international government officials is also due to the strict measures Beijing has taken to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. The Chinese leadership is pursuing a zero-case strategy in fighting the pandemic.
Athletes complain about training conditions
In doing so, it does not stop at the international athletes, who can only move in a bubble around the sports facilities that they are not allowed to leave. The serious accident of Polish tobogganist Mateusz Sochowicz on the Olympic bobsleigh and toboggan run in Yanqing caused a sensation at the beginning of November.
Sochowicz had crashed at high speed into a barrier that shouldn’t have been there. The 25-year-old then accused the railway operators of incompetence. The athlete is said to have been denied access to a doctor at first.
The Beijing organizers of the games deny this. Sochowicz was also initially refused to leave the country, citing epidemic protection, and he finally had to fly back to his homeland in a cargo plane.
Other tobogganers, who were allowed to test the routes – as usual in the run-up to the Olympic Games – in the past few weeks, also complained about the adverse conditions under which they had to train.
For example, the German team was put in isolation quarantine for several days, stating reasons for protection against the disease. “We are only allowed out of the room when there is track training, we do not get really decent food in plastic cups and bags in front of the door, we have no way of moving,” complained the four-time Olympic luge champion Natalie Geisenberger.
So far, there has been no criticism of any of this from the sponsors. The largest sponsors include the Chinese online retailer Alibaba, the US chip manufacturer Intel and the Japanese car manufacturer Toyota. The insurance group Allianz is the only German company among them.
More: The IOC gives a miserable picture in the case of the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.