No Olympic breather, here comes Beijing in less than six months

TOKYO – Another Olympic Games with more layers of dissent and debate than Tokyo are less than six months away in Beijing.

The postponement of Tokyo 2020 to 2021 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic pushed the Summer Games into the timeline territory of a Winter Games.

Tokyo’s organizing committee and the International Olympic Committee were questioned and criticized in the weeks before the opening ceremonies and during the Games over whether it was prudent to hold an international multi-sport festival while coronavirus numbers spiked in the city.

The world will not likely be entirely free of the COVID-19 pandemic before Beijing’s Feb. 4 opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics.

The coronavirus is expected to again be the backdrop of an Olympic Games in terms of restrictions and protocols for participants.

Beyond the pandemic, however, is the rising volume of criticism directed at China for its human rights records and calls from various quarters for a boycott of Beijing’s Winter Games in 2022.

The United States is among countries accusing China of committing genocide in its treatment of Uyghurs. Canada’s high-profile diplomatic breach with China is well into a third year.

Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have been detained by China since the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver’s airport in December, 2018.

Canada acted on an extradition request from the U.S. government, which alleges she misled bank HSBC of the telecom’s relationship with Skycom Tech and put the bank at risk of violating sanctions against Iran.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the detention of the Canadian men “arbitrary” and “unacceptable.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee stated their intention to compete in Beijing in February, which was a year out from the Winter Games.

The COC’s chief executive officer maintains that position even if the boycott drumbeats grow louder in the coming weeks.

“We’re not at all naive from the fact that those that have serious concerns about our presence there, that will continue to augment,” David Shoemaker said Sunday in Tokyo during a COC virtual news conference.

“Make no mistake that we have serious concerns about what’s going on in the host country. Canadians have serious concerns about what’s going on in the host country.

“We’ve discussed them with the Canadian government, the Canadian ambassador at length and we’re confident those issues are being dealt with on a government-to-government basis.”

Canada joined a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The Soviets didn’t leave Afghanistan for almost a decade and led retaliatory Eastern Bloc boycott of Los Angeles in 1984.

“We believe strongly that a boycott’s not the answer,” Shoemaker said. “”Sport has this unique power to bring people together. We’re seeing it here.

“Team Canada’s presence in Beijing, the dialogue that can be created by our presence, the inspiration among youngsters and generations to come for our winter performance at those Games, is something that we should cherish.

“We’re very much committed to those Games.”

The last time a summer and winter Olympics were held so close together was in 1992 in Barcelona and Albertville, France respectively.

The two properties began alternating every two years after that, which resulted in another Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994.

When Tokyo 2020 was postponed to Tokyo 2021 in the spring of last year, the COC altered its operations to prepare for both Tokyo and Beijing.

“We realized that we had to do things very differently,” Shoemaker said.

“We’ve had a dedicated team of people that have been concentrating solely on preparing Team Canada operationally and from a performance standpoint on our effort in Beijing. We hope that will pay dividends.”

Canada’s 24 medals in Tokyo was the best performance at a non-boycotted Summer Olympics and ranked the country 11th. Seven gold tied for the most since Barcelona at a non-boycotted Games.

Expectations for Winter Olympics are higher, however, because Canada is a winter-sport powerhouse. Canada ranked third in overall medals and gold with 29 and 11 respectively in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

The pandemic has affected the country’s winter athletes unevenly.

Skiers, snowboarders and sliders managed to get some semblance of a season in last winter because the risk of virus transmission was deemed lower in an outdoor sport.

Indoor rink athletes — figure skaters, speedskaters and the national women’s hockey team — had little with which to work.

“All the rink sports were not able to either train or compete,” said Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger.

“Even though we had the curling bubble in Calgary, the curling athletes were really not able to train and compete as they normally would.”

Canadian athletes have a few months to catch up, but only a few.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2021.

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