Beijing Winter Olympics: Why are they controversial?

The Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics are due to take place in February.

However, China’s human rights record has prompted a number of countries to declare diplomatic boycotts of the Games, which means their top officials won’t attend.

When are the Games and how big are they?

The Winter Olympics take place from 4 February to 20 February with around 3,000 athletes competing in 109 different events.

The Winter Paralympics run from 4 March to 13 March, with 736 competitors across 78 events.

Some Olympic events, such as curling, will begin a few days before the opening ceremony on 4 February.

China’s government and businesses are spending $3.9bn (£2.95bn) on the Games, which are taking place in and around Beijing:

  • Indoor ice events will take place in stadiums in Beijing
  • Yanqing, 75 km from Beijing, will stage alpine skiing, bobsled and the luge
  • Zhangjiakou, 180 km from Beijing, will host most skiing and snowboarding events

The organisers will spray about 1.2 million cubic metres of artificial snow onto competition sites because so little falls in the region. China has been criticised over the environmental impact of this process.

Because of Covid, competitors and officials will be kept in secure “bubbles” and no spectator tickets will be sold to the public.

Which countries are boycotting the Olympics?

The US, UK and Canada have declared a diplomatic boycott of the Games, along with Australia, Lithuania and Kosovo.

Although they will all send athletes to compete, no ministers or officials will attend.

The US said this was because of China’s “human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang” against the province’s Muslim population.

British MP Iain Duncan Smith, who represents the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said: “The Chinese government commits industrial-scale human rights abuses in the Uyghur Region, Tibet and sends near-daily military incursions into Taiwan’s airspace.

“We cannot lend any legitimacy to China’s despotic regime.”

Japan has also said it won’t send any ministers to the Games. Although it has stopped short of declaring a “diplomatic boycott”, the move is still likely to heighten tensions between the two neighbours.

China has cracked down on anti-government protests in Hong Kong

The EU is trying to agree a common diplomatic stance.

France is against a boycott, with President Macron saying: “I don’t think we should politicise these topics, especially if it is to take steps that are insignificant and symbolic.”

There have also been protests across the world against the Beijing Games by human rights activists.

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