The world is an incredible place. Things we take for granted here are a pipe dream in other parts of the globe. We take so many of our freedoms for granted, and when allowed to travel, we see just how free we truly are in some respects and learn about how repressed we are in others. Getting an opportunity to experience that firsthand is simply incredible, and for this year’s Olympians, they get an opportunity to experience these cultures in one big lump over a few short weeks.
Yet, when traveling, the rights and responsibilities from your home country do not necessarily travel with you. For these Olympians, they are learning that their right to free speech is not guaranteed in the city of Beijing or the rest of China. Beijing Winter Olympics Athletes’ Commission Chair Yang Yang recently spoke out about what the Olympians can expect.
“We have Rule 50 from the IOC charter. It says very clearly about the freedom of speech for athletes, what kind of expressions they can make, at what time, during what events. Athletes are role models for the world and there is a lot of attention on them. They have their opinions and if they want to share that, that is important… At the medal ceremonies, they cannot make their opinions but in press conferences or interviews, athletes are free to express their opinions. But athletes need to be responsible for what they say.”
As events are scheduled in Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang as well as Beijing, there are a lot of different nuances to understand. Each location has different customs and traditions that Olympians must obey, and slightly different terms of what is acceptable. Much like with comedy, these Olympians need to know their audience and keep that in mind when they speak up and make their feelings known. Rob Koehler, director-general of the Global Athlete group gave them an even firmer warning about speaking up.
“There’s really not much protection that we believe is going to be afforded to athletes. Silence is complicity and that’s why we have concerns. So we’re advising athletes not to speak up. We want them to compete and use their voice when they get home.” Given the past uses of the stage to protest racism, sexism, and animal rights, the Olympians have a long history of being a stage to showcase the problems of the Olympics and their home countries.
China has recently silenced numerous athletes who have spoken up about their treatment. Given the nature of the totalitarian state to do whatever they see is fit, the Olympians have a lot to worry about. When you strip away the rights of Americans to speak their mind, it will bother them greatly. Perhaps that is the entire goal of the Chinese as it is. To disrupt the mind so the heart shall follow and their performance will be less than their best?
Any way you look at this, there is a big problem with hosting the Olympics in China. Aside from being the center of COVID-19, their politics and policies go against everything America stands for. Their oppressive regime and horrible human rights record are enough to make any American worried for our Olympians as they compete.
By silencing their voice, they are now being forced into showing the entire world how much they are willing to comply with to be the best. While it’s infuriating that they are being put in this position, they are suffering through it to make their country proud. Given how little they get besides applause for their achievements, they will be enduring a lot just for a chance to stand on that podium. We as Americans all need to stop for a moment and acknowledge the struggle they will have while being in China.