Sports

EXCLUSIVE: Coaches Warn US Athletes To Not Protest At Beijing Olympics

(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images), (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Diana Glebova Associate Editor
Font Size:

Top U.S. Nordic ski coaches told the Daily Caller that athletes competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics starting Friday should not protest China’s human rights violations while they are there.

The U.S. has diplomatically boycotted the Olympics held in Beijing, China, over the genocide of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province, but athletes are still allowed to compete. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has warned athletes to be “responsible” with what they say in China, and politicians on both sides of the aisle have advised Olympians to be careful about their actions due to China’s authoritarian regime.

Eliska Albrigtsen, Nordic skiing head coach at University of Alaska Fairbanks, told the Daily Caller that Olympians deserve the opportunity to compete, and should not protest when they are in China.

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA – FEBRUARY 21: Stina Nilsson of Sweden, Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway and Jessica Diggins of the United States compete as they pass the Olympic Rings during the Cross Country Ladies’ Team Sprint Free Final on day 12 of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Alpensia Cross-Country Centre on February 21, 2018, in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

“I have to say that the time Olympians spend on the prep to make it there and to compete, and all the good they, as healthy and influential humans, do on that path would be just thrown away if they were not allowed to compete,” Albrigtsen said.

She has one Olympian on her team competing for Estonia, and said that the athletes can be human rights advocates for the Uyghurs when they get home from the games.

“Sometimes, silence at the right time and place is stronger than [a] thousand words. In this case, China during [the] Olympics is the right time and place. However, when they come home, it is the opposite, they should all use their influence to be loud for the Uyghurs,” she concluded.

Head Nordic ski coach at University of Alaska Anchorage, Trond Flagstad, told athletes to “just go be yourself and do what you normally would do and say during any Olympic games.”

University of Alaska Anchorage has three Nordic skiers, including current and alumni, competing in the Beijing Olympics: JC Schoonmaker, Hailey Swirbul and Gus Schumaker.

“Sport has always been a way to forget about the politics and let fitness and skills determine who is the best individual and best team,” he continued, saying he would be “surprised” if China chooses to silence athletes.

Ethan Townsend, head Nordic ski coach at St. Lawrence University, said he has “no concerns about [athletes’] safety,” and that they have “the right to make any political statement as they choose or choose not to.”

Head Nordic ski coach at St. Olaf College, Kevin Brochman, told the Daily Caller that athletes should not be used as “political pawns.”

“I am not in favor of using athletes as political pawns. America did this and [I] feel only American athletes were hurt by it,” he said.

“Perhaps all my electronics and medical supplies should be made in America?  Money has been the [reason] for everything being made in other countries. Using the athletes is ridiculous. They are just trying to do their best,” Brochman continued. (RELATED: Protesters Descend On Apple Store, Blast Production In China Over Uyghur Genocide)

“I don’t think China should have been awarded the Olympics but I am sure money was the reason there too. Freedom of speech, well in our country we seem to have the freedom to tell lies,” he concluded.
China has repeatedly denied the genocide of the Uyghurs. Chinese ambassador to the U.S., Qin Gang, told NPR that Uyghurs being held in detention camps are “extremists” and that most “enjoy [a] happy life.” Estimates show that China has detained up to 2 million Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in reeducation camps, according to Axios.