Beijing Warns of ‘Punishment’ If Foreign Athletes Protest at Olympics

By Eva Fu
Eva Fu
Eva Fu
Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S. politics, U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at
January 19, 2022Updated: January 26, 2022

An official with China’s Olympics organizing committee has cautioned foreign athletes against speaking out during next month’s Winter Olympics, warning that any behavior that violates Chinese regulations could potentially get them ejected from the Games.

“Any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected, and anything and any behavior or speeches that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment,” said Yang Shu, deputy director-general of Beijing 2022’s international relations department.

Many forms of speech are suppressed under highly restrictive laws imposed by the Chinese Communist Party, making it a challenge for ordinary citizens to express themselves freely both online and offline. Dissidents, rights lawyers, citizen journalists, and petitioners who criticize the regime often face detention and prosecution under broadly-defined charges, such as “provoking trouble” and “inciting subversion.”

Yang made the remarks during a Jan. 19 virtual briefing hosted by the Chinese embassy in Washington, when asked about athletes speaking out on human rights issues during the Olympics, slated to begin on Feb. 4.

He suggested canceling the athletes’ accreditation as a possible form of punishment, citing the guidelines in the Olympic organizers’ playbook.

China Prepares For Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
A security guard stands behind a barrier outside the National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, that will be part of the closed-loop “bubble” for visitors and locals taking part in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, in front of the Olympic Tower at the Olympic Park in Beijing, on Jan. 19, 2022. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter bans any form of demonstration or “political, religious or racial propaganda,” but the International Olympic Committee relaxed guidelines from last year to allow athletes to express their views during periods outside of competition and ceremonies.

Some activists have been urging Olympians to refrain from criticizing China while in Beijing for the sake of their own safety.

“We know the human rights record and the allowance of freedom of expression in China, so there’s really not much protection,” said Rob Koehler, the director-general of the Global Athlete group, at a Jan. 18 forum by rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

The rights activists also mentioned the case of three-time tennis Olympian Peng Shuai, who went missing for weeks after accusing a powerful former communist official of sexually assaulting her. Her disappearance is “a good indicator of what could possibly happen” to athletes who speak out, Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang said.

Noah Hoffman, a two-time Olympic cross-country skier, said the U.S. team is trying to shield athletes from thorny questions ahead of the Games.

“I am scared for their safety when they go to China,” Hoffman said at the forum, adding that he believes athletes should stay silent. “They can speak out when they get back.”

A woman walks past an installation promoting the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing on Jan. 19, 2022. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images)

China’s human rights record has been under growing scrutiny as the opening of the Olympic Games draws near.

The United States and at least seven other countries have said they would not send an official delegation in boycott over the regime’s mistreatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

There have also been concerns about how to protect athletes’ personal data. The United States, the UK, Australia, and the Netherlands are among the nations recommending that athletes leave their phones and laptops home and use temporary devices instead, due to surveillance concerns.

Citizen Lab, a Toronto-based global security research institute, said that an app for Beijing Olympic participants has a “devastating” security flaw that could expose their sensitive information, including phone numbers, passport details, travel history, and health status.

The smartphone app, called MY2022, provides travel, accommodations, and food services, and monitors users’ health status on a daily basis. It also has a feature for users to report “politically sensitive” content.

The app also contains a blacklist for keywords such as “Falun Gong,” “Tibet Freedom,” and “Tiananmen massacre,” terms relating to the regime’s past and ongoing abuses, as well as the Chinese terms for The Epoch Times and its sister outlet NTD. The Epoch Times and its affiliated media are blocked in China over their longstanding critical reporting of the Chinese Communist Party’s abuses.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.