I always love watching the Winter Olympics when it comes round. It’s a fantastic showcase for sports that are often little-known on our temperate island and an opportunity to come together and celebrate our sportsmen and women with rightful patriotic pride. We may not have stables of superstar skiers in the same way as the Alpine nations, or the cross-country pedigree of our Nordic neighbours, but that makes our successes all the more special, wonderfully highlighted by the ‘curling mania’ that sweeps across the country every four years and has families glued to television screens with eager anticipation.
However, the winter traditions of fulsome outdoor pursuit are greatly contrasted by the sinister form of digital autocracy imposed on these games by the Chinese state. It is with great concern that I read the news about our own Olympic Association encouraging athletes not to take personal mobile phones to Beijing, for fear of state surveillance and interference. It is right that our Prime Minister has joined with our allies in a diplomatic boycott of these games as a response to human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region amongst other things.
The recent disappearance of Peng Shuai, followed by an interview which appeared to be was stage-managed by the Chinese state, has rightly shocked the sporting world. To be clear, athletes should be free to speak out and express views which are critical of the Chinese authorities and any authorities, and the International Olympic Committee’s weakness on this front is worrying.
The Chinese state is attempting to normalise the suppression of freedom by working through a number of international institutions and we cannot allow this. Whilst our athletes have my full and hearty support, I am proud that we are among a few nations standing up to the bullying of the Chinese Communist Party.
There is a great and noble place on the word stage for China if they would more rapidly embrace the democracy and freedoms from which much of the rest of the world enjoys such benefits.