Cybersecurity threats, ongoing human rights abuses and COVID-19 have caused American Olympic athletes to fear for their safety in the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics set to begin Friday.
Three out of 215 participants on a Team USA flight—one athlete and two staff members— tested positive for COVID-19 upon landing Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported. A Team USA spokeswoman said the three members had tested negative in previous tests before the flight.
The three were asymptomatic and awaited in isolation for confirmatory testing results in compliance with Beijing’s 2022 protocols, the outlet reported. The COVID-positive patient must wait in an isolation facility or a hospital until they are asymptomatic and have received two negative COVID results 24 hours apart.
U.S. Olympic skier Mikaela Shiffrin tested positive on Dec. 27 after participating in the Alpine skiing World Cup tour, the outlet reported. U.S. snowboarding star Shaun White and figure skaters Alysa Liu and Brandon Frazier also tested positive soon after.
All 222 U.S. athletes have been vaccinated against COVID, according to the outlet. Beijing 2022 data recorded 176 positive cases among Olympic participants between Jan. 23-30. Among athletes and team officials, 51 tested positive upon arrival.
China’s “zero-Covid” approach has led many athletes to quarantine for weeks, and even months, from their families in order to participate in the Games, the outlet reported. The Beijing Olympics have enforced strict testing guidelines for all participants, requiring that athletes, coaches and support staff are tested on a daily basis.
The Games will not allow outsiders to attend the events, the outlet reported.
The Tokyo 2021 Summer Olympics faced obstacles regarding the spread of COVID. Tokyo, Japan, witnessed a six-month-high spike in coronavirus cases just before the start of the 2021 Summer Olympics. Multiple U.S. Olympic athletes tested positive a week before the Games began.
Athletes have additionally faced conflicts in regards to China’s continuing human rights abuses, most notably the genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and the overthrow of democracy in Hong Kong. The abuses have led to the U.S. implementing a diplomatic boycott against the Olympics. (RELATED: Biden Administration To Announce Boycott Diplomatic Boycott Of Beijing Olympics)
President Joe Biden will not send any high-ranking officials to attend the Olympics due to China’s campaign to assimilate Uyghur and other Muslims, the outlet reported. The U.S., along with other nations, say that China has placed up to one million people in detention centers, where they are victims of sterilization and forced labor.
A Team USA figure skater, Timothy LeDuc, called China’s treatment of Uyghurs “horrifying human-rights abuses,” the outlet reported.
A Beijing organizing committee official said that behavior or speech that “violated the Olympic spirit” could be subject to an unspecified punishment, the outlet reported. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has forbidden any “demonstration or politics, religious or racial propaganda” during the Games. Individuals are, however, permitted to demonstrate before and after the events.
Noah Hoffman, a 32-year-old Olympic skier and board member of athlete-advocacy group Global Athlete, encouraged athletes to refrain from political action, the outlet reported. He urged those to be vocal once the games have ended.
“[And so] it just kills me to tell athletes to be quiet, that they should not speak up,” Hoffman said. “But if I were headed to these Games, I would have my mouth shut, because I do not believe that athletes will be safe if they’re speaking out about the issues in China, human rights issues or about issues relating to the IOC at this point…I would be planning to speak out on every platform when I get back.”
Clare Egan, a Team USA biathlete, said athletes hope to keep politics astray during the Games, the outlet reported.
“Most athletes are really hoping to stay out of anything remotely political,” she said.
Some athletes will return to China for other competitions, which threatens their careers if they choose to demonstrate against the country’s abuses, the outlet reported.
Several national Olympic committees have encouraged Team USA to use disposable phones to protect themselves against potential surveillance initiated by the Chinese government. Athletes feel that their personal safety is in jeopardy in light of Chinese tennis star Peng Shaui’s disappearance in November 2021 after accusing a politician of sexually assaulting her.
Shaui has since made public appearances, along with China’s foreign ministry claiming that she is “doing fine,” the outlet reported. The Women’s Tennis Association has raised their skepticism of the claims and her right to speak freely about her conditions.
The incident involving Shaui led Uyghur activists to switch positions on raising awareness of human rights abuses, the outlet reported.