Beijing, China (REUTERS) – Olympic spokesperson Zhao Weidong says the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics will turn attention away from criticism surrounding the host country’s human rights record.
Several countries including the United States and Britain have announced a diplomatic boycott of the Games over China’s rights record, including its treatment of mostly Muslim Uyghurs in its Xinjiang region, which the United States deems genocide.
“The so-called China human rights issue is a lie made up by people with ulterior motives,” Weidong told Reuters when asked if such criticism had undermined the Games.
“I want to emphasize that the Olympics is a great spectacle for athletes and sports fans across the world. From the current situation, many countries and athletes have expressed their support for the Beijing Winter Olympics,” he said.
“The opening ceremony is tomorrow. I believe that at the instance in which the Olympic flame is lit, all of this so-called boycott banter will be extinguished,” he added.
The opening ceremony of this year’s Olympics will take place on Friday at the Bird’s Nest stadium, the same venue where Beijing’s 2008 Games began, making the Chinese capital the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games.
Due to COVID-19, the Olympics are taking place in a “closed loop”, segregating competitors and other personnel from the Chinese public, and spectators will be limited to smaller groups of selected attendees.
Zhao expressed confidence in the measures, which include daily testing for everyone, after organizers reported 55 new infections among Games personnel on Feb. 2, the highest daily total to date. Officials expect numbers to decline once all overseas participants have arrived.
“I want to emphasize that all of our methods of pandemic prevention and control are in essence effective,” Zhao said.
Zhao said spectators at events, who must undergo COVID-19 monitoring before, during and after the Games, were identified in a “wide selection process” and the spectators will attend at their own initiative.
On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee said organizers were hoping for stadium capacities of at least 30 per cent.
“During last night’s match, many of the spectators were just normal residents,” he said, referring to the curling competition that began on Wednesday.
“I believe that after you see the opening ceremony, you will understand everything,” Zhao said.