by Helen Roxburgh

From human rights to coronavirus and tennis star Peng Shuai, February’s Beijing Olympics have been overshadowed by several controversies.

With under two months until the Games begin, the United States on Monday reacted by announcing a diplomatic boycott.

Beijing 2022 Olympics
Official emblems for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. File Photo: International Olympic Committee.

AFP Sports looks at the issues hanging over the Olympics:

Peng Shuai

There was grave international concern for former world number one doubles player Peng after she made sexual assault accusations on social media against a former top Communist Party politician.

The 35-year-old — a three-time Olympian — was not heard from for nearly three weeks and her claims were rapidly censored. The United Nations, US and Peng’s fellow tennis stars all voiced fears for her whereabouts.

The Women’s Tennis Association suspended tournaments in China.

Peng Shuai
Peng Shuai. File photo: Wikicommons.

Peng later appeared on state media in several videos and held a video call with IOC president Thomas Bach in which she said she was safe and well, however concerns remain.


Campaigners say that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in camps in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Human rights groups and foreign governments have found evidence of what they say is mass detentions, forced labour, political indoctrination, torture and forced sterilisation. Washington has described it as genocide.

uighur xinjiang
A verified drone shot from 2019 of Uighur prisoners being transferred by train. File photo: Weibo.

After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.

China has also consistently railed against what it calls the “politicisation of sport.”

Tibet, Hong Kong 

Human rights campaigners and exiles have accused Beijing of religious repression and massively curtailing rights in Tibet.

Activists unfurled a Tibetan flag at the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony in Greece.

Tibet has alternated over the centuries between independence and control by China, which says it “peacefully liberated” the rugged plateau in 1951 and brought infrastructure and education to the previously underdeveloped region.

But many exiled Tibetans accuse the Beijing government of religious repression, torture and eroding their culture — part of broader fears for human rights in China.

tibet flag
A Tibetan flag seen in Hong Kong. File Photo: Cloud.

There has also been international concern about a clampdown in Hong Kong, which China is remoulding in its own authoritarian image after huge and often violent democracy protests in the city two years ago.


The coronavirus has loomed large over the build-up to the Beijing Olympics, which take place just six months after the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Summer Games.

China has managed to restrict domestic infections to small clusters through aggressive lockdowns and mass testing, but Beijing organisers have admitted that protecting the Games from the coronavirus is their “biggest challenge.”

Shenzhen Bay Covid-19 border
Shenzhen Bay port, which Chief Executive Carrie Lam said will not be used for setting up temporary polling facilities. File Photo: GovHK.

The Winter Olympics will be held in a “closed loop” — a strict bubble insulating athletes from the outside world for the whole Games. Only people living in China will be allowed to attend as spectators.

The estimated 2,900 athletes must be fully vaccinated or face 21 days in quarantine upon arrival. They, along with media and others in the bubble, will also be tested daily.

Entry into the Chinese capital has already been tightened.

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