The refusal by world leaders to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing has been disappointing, but there is a new factor to consider: the spread of the omicron variant and China’s authoritarian methods of containing it.
All evidence still indicates that the omicron variant is less lethal than previous variants and that vaccinated people, who were already protected from serious cases of COVID-19, are still protected from serious bouts with the virus.
Still, COVID-19 panic has not gone away, and that includes China’s handling of the Olympics.
China will be cracking down on its own citizens, preventing spectators (all of whom will be Chinese, since foreign fans are not permitted to attend the games) from yelling during competitions. Staff, including cleaners and waiters, will not be allowed to visit their families.
Athletes will be subject to stringent restrictions as well. Olympic luge champion Natalie Geisenberger of Germany criticized China’s restrictions earlier this month after a three-week training session in China. She was identified as a close contact of someone who had been infected and forced into isolation in her room for several days despite testing negative. She said the food she was given fell well short of her nutritional needs as an athlete training and competing and that the conditions “speak in favor” of not going back for the games.
This is perhaps a minor matter. After all, China is committing genocide in Xinjiang and threatening the sovereignty of Taiwan. But if those are not good enough reasons to justify a boycott of the games, then what about the health and welfare of our athletes?
Do we really want to entrust them to China’s care for more than a month? Aside from China’s overbearing measures to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, China has repeatedly lied about the virus — about everything from its severity to the number of cases and deaths inside China.
Nothing China says about the virus can be trusted. China’s COVID-19 mitigation measures are also grossly authoritarian, unscientific, and enforced with the Chinese Communist Party’s pride in mind, not the health and welfare of athletes.
Athletes will get COVID-19 at the Olympics and be forced into China’s protocols and miss their shot to compete (which we were told is why we cannot boycott in the first place). Given the litany of problems with these games already, it is not worth sending them and subjecting them to inevitable abuse as omicron spreads.