The International Olympic Committee (IOC) published a video this week featuring over two dozen athletes calling for governments around the world to more effectively distribute vaccines for Chinese coronavirus to the most vulnerable.
The Chinese coronavirus, currently fueling a two-year-old pandemic, originated in China, the host country of the 2022 Winter Olympics. In addition to the Chinese Communist Party’s role in ensuring the virus would cause a pandemic and not merely a localized outbreak – through hosting mass super-spreader events, arresting doctors for issuing tips on avoiding infectious diseases, and blocking legitimate investigations into the origin of the virus – human rights activists have condemned granting China the honor of hosting another Olympic Games session given the regime’s current genocide of the Uyghur people of East Turkistan.
Human rights leaders as well as activists from other persecuted communities – including Tibetans, Hongkongers, and ethnic minorities in China – have called for countries, sponsors, and athletes to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics to protest China’s human rights abuses. Others have noted that, given China’s current uncontrolled coronavirus outbreak and its most recent abuses against world champion athletes, competitors have no guaranteed safety in the country.
The IOC public service announcement on combatting the pandemic makes no mention of China.
Through the power of sport, we're stronger in the battle against #COVID19.
Olympians & Paralympians make a bold call to world leaders to ensure equitable access to vaccines. #StrongerTogether
— Olympics (@Olympics) January 11, 2022
The video urges unnamed “governments” to ensure that poor people and those with health situations that may result in more severe Chinese coronavirus infections have greater access to vaccine products. It does not endorse any specific vaccine product. In the past year, countries around the world have debuted vaccines and vaccine products of varying efficacy and legitimacy, from the mRNA-technology vaccines from the United States to a bizarre nasal product Iran claims has immunological properties.
The athletes in the video urged the public to embrace what they called “our collective responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable.”
“We have been given a way forward with a safe and effective vaccine that can help save precious lives and protect our friends … and our families,” the athletes, who each read a part of the same statement, assert. “So we call on governments, foundations, philanthropists, health organisations and social businesses to join hands in giving free and equal access to the vaccine for everybody across the world to pledge our collective responsibility to protect those who are the most vulnerable, because everyone on this planet has a right to live a healthy life.”
Only one American athlete, Nordic skiing competitor Tatyana McFadden, appears in the video. The IOC listed 30 participants – including IOC President Thomas Bach, a fencing Olympian – in its press release on the campaign.
The video surfaces as the manufacturers of some of the world’s most popular vaccine products increasingly admit that the medical substances do not prevent transmission of Chinese coronavirus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned as early as this August that the vaccines no longer prevent spread of the disease because they are designed to prevent infection by the original strain of the pathogen, known as “alpha.” At the time, the fourth recognized variant, known as “delta,” had become dominant. Currently, a new variant branded “omicron” – believed to be more contagious but less dangerous – is competing with delta for infections in much of the world. Studies suggest omicron may be even more resistant to vaccines than delta; the World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that pharmaceutical companies may need to significantly tweak vaccine designs to make them useful against omicron.
The Chinese coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. While its true origins remain a mystery, largely due to Communist Party destruction of evidence, the steps the ruling regime took to spread the disease and deceive the world about the threat it posed contributed significantly to its global spread. Communist Party officials used the police to silence doctors and journalists reporting on what appeared to be a novel infectious respiratory disease spreading in the city, notably forcing one doctor, Li Wenliang, to issue a humiliating apology for encouraging people to wash their hands and isolate patients. Li died, allegedly of a coronavirus infection, in February 2020.
Chinese officials also allowed 5 million people to travel out of Wuhan during the Lunar New Year holiday in 2020, spreading the disease around the world, while implementing domestic travel restrictions to protect other regions of China. Beijing also told the World Health Organization that the highly contagious virus was not transmissible from human to human, a lie the WHO amplified to the world.
After denying that it had any concerns about the spread of coronavirus for much of the past year, the Chinese government began admitting in October that it was seeing a resurgence of the disease following the regime’s encouraging people to travel nationwide for the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party, a phenomenon known as “red tourism.” As of this week, an estimated 52 million people in China are under some form of lockdown to prevent the disease from spreading, most severely in the giant metropolises of Xi’an and Tianjin. Tianjin often serves as a stop for travelers attempting to reach Beijing, so an outbreak there is a direct threat to the Olympics.
The IOC has ignored all calls to relocate the Olympics, either out of concern that athletes will suffer needless coronavirus infections or that they will be forced to participate in what is essentially a celebration of a genocidal regime. Chinese officials insisted this week that they would not lock down all of Beijing despite the growing coronavirus crisis, and that its “closed looped management” system would keep athletes safe. The system bans athletes and others participating in the event from leaving the Olympics village or interacting with the outside world during the Games.
Discomfort with the human rights situation in China has begun to emerge in the U.S. Olympian community. One of the most recognizable Winter Olympic champions in America, snowboarder Shaun White, posed for a photo this weekend with the flag of Tibet and an anti-communist activist. Tibet is an occupied region whose residents accuse Beijing of cultural genocide — outlawing Tibetan religion, language, and culture. Possessing a Tibetan flag is a crime in China; it is unclear if, should White make the U.S. team, he would face police action in Beijing.
Figure skating newcomer Timothy LeDuc, who made the U.S. team last week, told reporters that placing the competition in China made athletes feel “powerless” about the message it sends regarding China’s human rights crimes.
“What I can say is we absolutely acknowledge the horrifying things that we’ve seen happening to the Uyghurs. I read somewhere the other day that it’s the largest number of people held in internment and labor camps since World War II,” LeDuc said. “I mean, these are horrifying human rights abuses that we’re seeing happening. And it can feel very powerless when you read those things, because you think, ‘What can I do?’”