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China Chooses Uyghur Athlete For Olympic Ceremony Amid Ongoing Genocide, Fading Interest In Games
Picture of the Olympic cauldron in Zhangjiakou, China's Hebei Province, after being lit by torch bearer Wang Wenzhuo after the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, on February 4, 2022. (Photo by Zhu Xudong / various sources / AFP) (Photo by ZHU XUDONG/AFP via Getty Images)
ZHU XUDONG/AFP via Getty Images

You may not be aware, but the Opening Ceremonies to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics took place Friday morning. 

As with every Opening Ceremony, the final act is the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, usually lit by an athlete with the Olympic torch. On Friday, China made a controversial decision with who would be lighting the cauldron, reportedly selecting a Chinese athlete with a Uyghur last name to do the honors. According to The New York Times, the athlete was Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross-country skier with Uyghur roots. 

“This moment is quite provocative,” Savannah Guthrie of NBC said. “It’s a statement from the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to choose an athlete from the Uyghur minority. It is an in-your face response to those western nations, including the U.S., who have called this Chinese treatment of that group genocide, and diplomatically boycotted these games.”

In December, the Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games, citing the PRC’s “crimes against humanity” and “ongoing genocide” as to why the U.S. would not be sending any official representation to Beijing. 

“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

The lead up to the Winter Olympics has been fascinating, as much of the focus has been on the location of the games rather than the events and the Olympians themselves. Two weeks ago, the deputy director general of Beijing 2022’s International Relations Department — Yang Shu — told reporters that Olympians who violate the “Olympic spirit” will be subject to punishment.  

“Any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected and anything and any behaviour or speeches that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment,” Yang said.

The message and concern over athletes’ ability to speak freely caused Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) to send a message to U.S. athletes thinking of speaking out against China’s human rights abuses. 

“I would say to our athletes — you are there to compete,” Pelosi said in part during testimony before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. “Do not risk incurring the anger of the Chinese government because they are ruthless. I know there is a temptation on the part of some to speak out while they are there, I respect that. But, I also worry about what the Chinese government might do to their reputations, to their families.”

The issues surrounding the games, and restrictions due to COVID-19, have caused interest in the games to plummet, according to polls conducted by Ipsos and Morning Consult. The Ipsos poll, which surveyed more than 20,000 people across 28 countries, found that “42 percent of adults said they were interested in the upcoming Games, compared with 55 percent ahead of the last Winter Olympics, in 2018. Just 45 percent of American adults said they planned to watch some or a lot of the Olympics, according to a Morning Consult poll conducted Jan. 25-27. That’s roughly the same as the percentage who said they planned to watch the Summer Games in Tokyo last year, though that marked a record low for viewership intent according to the pollster,” according to FiveThirtyEight.

The Morning Consult poll cites a few reasons for the lack of interest, with one being that the Summer Olympics was just six months ago, and the other being that people are simply not interested in the events or the athletes participating in them. However, one of the main components to the lack of interest is the Olympic Games’ location itself. 

According to FiveThirtyEight, “40 percent in the Morning Consult poll said they don’t plan to watch the Olympics this year because they are opposed to China hosting the Games, and 31 percent cited it as a ‘major’ reason.”

It’s clear that enthusiasm around the Olympics has declined through the years, but the International Olympic Committee deciding to give China another crack at hosting the Games — Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics — certainly is not helping to increase interest.

Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected].

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