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Beijing 2022

EDITORIAL | Flaws in Beijing Winter Olympics Call for IOC Soul-Searching

“I think it is extremely irresponsible to give [the Olympics] to a country that violates human rights as blatantly as the Chinese regime is doing.” — Speed skater Nils van der Poel

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Beijing Olympics ーMore than curling stones need to be swept clean. Shown here: Japan's inspiring curling team (vice Chinami Yoshida) in action against Switzerland in the women's curling semifinals. (Evelyn Hockstein/REUTERS)

On February 20, after 17 days of heated competition, the curtain fell on the controversy-marred Beijing Winter Olympics. 

Yet the world was left wondering for whom these Olympic Games had been staged. Holding this “Festival of Peace” in a nation ruled by an authoritarian government constantly threatened to undercut its meaning. 

As athletes from throughout the world gathered in Beijing, we were interested in seeing what message they might send concerning human rights and human rights issues. But, as was expected, since the Chinese authorities had warned that anyone daring to speak out would be punished under China’s draconian domestic security law, participants were constrained from expressing personal opinions.

Whose Olympic Games?

Far from trying to dissuade the Chinese government from acting in a highhanded manner, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) repeatedly heaped praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

And the Opening Ceremony for the Games, attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and several other strongman leaders of authoritarian regimes, gave the impression of a propaganda rally for dictatorships. 

Returning home after winning two gold medals in Beijing, Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel spoke to a local newspaper, saying, “I think it is extremely irresponsible [for the IOC] to give [the Olympics] to a country that violates human rights as blatantly as the Chinese regime is doing.”

The IOC should do some serious soul-searching concerning its foolish choice of Beijing to host the Olympics so as not to make the same blunder again. 

The IOC has also made a mockery of the principle of “fairness and impartiality,” which is taken for granted in sports. Its biggest mistake was to welcome Russian athletes to compete in Beijing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team ー despite the fact that Russia was under sanctions for state-sponsored doping.

The participation of 15-year-old Russian female figure skater Kamila Valieva after a banned drug was detected in her system aroused a storm of criticism. She fell repeatedly when she subsequently took part in the free skating portion of the individual competition. 

Fifteen-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva .

Although Valieva deserves sympathy for the emotional anguish she has had to endure, allowing her to perform has also harmed other people. Her doping revelation led to the decision not to award Olympic medals for the team competition until the issue is resolved. The ROC’s position at the top of that competition meant that the second and third place teams from the United States and Japan respectively also lost their right to stand on the winners’ podium.

If nothing else, the world paid attention to the doping scandal. The biggest victims of doping are of course the athletes from throughout the world who competed while believing in the credo of “fairness and impartiality.” They were betrayed by the IOC. 

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee has issued a statement criticizing as “disappointing” the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to allow the Russian teenager to continue participating in the competition after she had failed the doping test.

On the other hand, the Japanese Olympic Committee has remained silent. Do its members intend to refrain from taking a stand, even as Olympic values are desecrated and the rights of athletes are violated? Their insensitivity is astonishing, and is yet another reminder that it has become an organization of little significance.

Celebrating the Athletes

Despite the many problems of the Games, the Japanese team had a good Olympics, winning three gold, six silver, and nine bronze medals. Its total medal count of 18 is a record medal haul for a Winter Games, eclipsing the previous record of 13 medals it won at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. 

The team’s success should also give a boost to the prospects for Sapporo’s bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics. 

RELATED: Sapporo is Snowed In, and it’s All Natural

The athletes deserve to be applauded for not flagging in their efforts even though the COVID-19 pandemic constrained the competition environment. 

These Olympics left with us images of elite athletes boldly challenging themselves. There was the men’s figure skating phenomenon Yuzuru Hanyu, who attempted a quad axel jump. And there was the female snowboarder Reira Iwabuchi, who came ever so close to landing the first ever front side triple cork 1260, an incredibly difficult maneuver, in the women’s big air competition.

Both athletes failed in their efforts. But Hanyu’s became the first ever officially recognized quad axel attempt, and Iwabuchi was mobbed by her rivals who gave her warm hugs and showered her with praise for her attempt to make history. The excitement and high emotion such challenges provide transcend any language barrier. That surely is proof of the inherent power of sports. 

And how can we not but honor Miho Takagi, the female speed skater who competed in five separate events of varying distances, and ended up with one gold and three silver medals?

Then there were the inspirational comments that some of the athletes made. For example, Chinami Yoshida, a member of the Japanese women’s curling team, said, “Our advantage is that we have experienced many misses and many disadvantages.” 

The silver medal these women from a small town in Hokkaido won might be said to embody the setbacks they overcame to polish their play and the exquisite way in which they describe the path that brought them to the victory platform. 

Sapporo hopes its natural snowfall will help bring the 2030 Olympics to Hokkaido.

Sometimes Tradition is Not Sufficient

At its general session held in Beijing on February 3, the IOC issued a list of 28 sports to be included in the initial lineup for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games. Among new events that were not included in the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021 will be certain skateboarding, sports climbing, and surfing events. 

Meanwhile, certain traditional events involving boxing, weightlifting, and so on have been put on hold. 

In regards to boxing, there are several issues, including the bribing of judges and the opaque administration of governing bodies. With wrestling, the doping issue has not gone away. Meanwhile, as the adoption of extreme sports competitions in skateboarding and snowboarding have shown, the Olympics will struggle to survive if they lack appeal among young people. “Tradition” will no longer be enough to give certain events a pass. 

The extensive use of artificial snow on the ski slopes at the Beijing Winter Olympics should serve as a warning signal about the long-term sustainability of the Winter Olympics. 

Measures for dealing with global warming will have to be included in Sapporo’s bid for the 2030 Games. What form will they take? We should not forget that the world will be watching us in that regard? 

(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun