At the Olympics, Olympic athletes will feel safe and allowed to voice their opinion. 2022 Winter OlympicsTIME speaks with Dick Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee in Beijing. But they have to observe Chinese laws.
Pound claims that the IOC has agreements made with the host organizing committees to ensure athletes are protected at the Games. He says he is not worried about Beijing going back on its word, “because that would be an international black eye on any host country.”
Pound’s comments came as the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia Announced diplomatic boycotts against the Olympics, which will see them not send dignitaries to the Games in February over China’s human rights abuses, particularly againstXinjiang has a large number of ethnic Muslims. China responded furiously to the protests, both dismissing them as a “farce” and warning that the countries “will inevitably pay the price for their wrongdoing.”
Athletes’ safety during the Games became a pressing issue following the disappearance—then emergence—of Chinese tennis star and Peng Shuai, an Olympic-level athleteAfter her allegations that she was sexually abused by a top Chinese official. Shuai’s original statement was removed from Chinese social media, then she later retracted her allegation—and all discussion of Peng has been censored in China.
Peng’s case led the Women’s Tennis Association to suspend all tournaments in China, citing concerns about whether other athletes would be safe there. However, Pound says: “I’m not concerned about the physical safety concerns.”
Pound also clarified his assertion that athletes have the right to free speech. “It’s not a situation where you have complete license to do whatever you want,” Pound says. “So, you know, be careful what you do, because you could be exposed.” But, he added that promises to protect athletes’ freedoms have “by and large” been honored by host countries in the past.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed in China’s constitution. The Chinese government, however, censors or prohibits all speech thought to be offensive to the Communist Party.
Beijing faced censorship issues when it hosted the 2008 Olympics. Rights groups and foreign journalists covering the Games criticized the Chinese government for limiting reporters’ travel and access to the internet. In spite of the existence of protest zones, Dissidents were harassed or even detained by their families.
Victor Cha is the senior vice president at Washington’s think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. He believes that athletes are increasingly being discouraged from speaking out during the Olympics. If athletes are muzzled, “the Olympics becomes a celebration of self-censorship—whether by the athletes or the company sponsors,” Cha says. “That would be the ultimate Olympic Potemkin village.”