Beijing Winter Olympics: Athletes could pay a heavy price for speaking out | World News

The pressure of competing in the Olympics should be more than enough for athletes. But now they also find themselves being asked to weigh in on geopolitical issues.

Some will argue that athletes have a duty to speak out on human rights issues. Other sportspeople have done so with success. Lewis Hamilton publicly criticised Qatar over its record ahead of the first Formula One Grand Prix to be held there.

Tennis stars, including Andy Murray, voiced concerns over Peng Shuai when she disappeared from view after alleging she had been sexually assaulted by a very high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official.

The Olympic flame is displayed at the Olympic Tower in the Olympic park in Beijing. Pic: AP

And one of the most enduring Olympic images of all time is that of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Speaking out could come with a heavy cost

But speaking out could come with a heavy cost for Olympic athletes. They will be competing in China itself, not Mexico as Smith and Carlos were.

It may seem unlikely that China would detain a foreign Olympian. But the risk is certainly not zero.

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This is a country that has had no hesitation in apparently silencing one of its own former Olympians, tennis player Peng Shuai. And no hesitation either in detaining two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what was seen as retaliation for Canada detaining a Huawei executive.

And then there are the wider considerations. Most Winter Olympians don’t have the profile of Lewis Hamilton or Andy Murray. And any comments they do make will certainly not be reported in China.

And you could argue that it’s the job of governments, not competitors, to take a stand.

Athletes are in a tough position

It would be unfair to criticise any athlete who does make a public comment. They are in a tough position and it is not one of their own making.

It was the International Olympic Committee, which says it is “committed to improving the promotion and respect of human rights”, that chose to award the Winter Olympics to China.

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