Beijing Olympics puts young Uyghur athlete at centre of controversy
China’s move to thrust a young Uyghur athlete into the spotlight at the climax of the Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremony placed her at the centre of long-time controversy over rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a 20-year-old cross-country skier, trained for years to fulfil every child’s dream to star at the Olympics.
But her prominent, smiling appearance as the final Olympic torch-bearer on Feb. 4 at the “Bird’s Nest” national stadium in front of thousands of spectators and across global television screens had clear political overtones.
She is from the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority from the far-northwestern region of Xinjiang, where China’s ruling Communist Party is accused of widespread human rights abuses.
Following Yilamujiang’s appearance on national and international television, Chinese diplomats shared videos on Twitter of her family clapping as they watched the ceremony on screen, some dabbing tears from their eyes.
Asked by journalists if Yilamujiang’s inclusion met the standard of political neutrality, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said she had “every right” to participate.
“As you’ll know from the Olympic Charter, we don’t discriminate against people on where they’re from, what their background is,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
“I think the concept of having all the generations there was a really excellent one.”Yilamujiang finished 43rd in the skiathlon race on Feb. 5.
The fate of China’s Uyghurs has been at the centre of international alarm.
At least one million mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, campaigners say. The United States has accused China of genocide, a charge denied by Beijing. Yilamujiang started ski training aged 12, according to China Sports Daily, under the guidance of her father -- also a cross-country skier, who competed nationally.
She joined China’s cross-country skiing team in 2017 and was among a group of athletes who headed to Norway for three years to hone their craft, state media reported.
Altay, the part of Xinjiang she is from, has been touted by Chinese state media as the “birthplace of skiing” and a growing winter sports destination.
In 2019, she became the first Chinese cross-country skiing medallist in an international ski federation-level event, with media reports lauding her as having achieved a “breakthrough” for the country in the sport.
Her father, who became a cross-country skier in the 1980s and is now a skiing instructor, was a strong motivating force behind her during her overseas training.
Yilamujiang took part in last year’s World Championships, ranking 13th in team sprint and 41st on the 10km competition.
“The only thing we can do now is train hard and win glory for the country,” she said in a video on the Beijing 2022 YouTube channel.
363 people inside the Olympic bubble have tested positive for COVID
Germany’s three-time Olympic nordic combined champion Eric Frenzel and his team-mate Terence Weber were tested positive for COVID, with the officials saying, “A total of 363 people inside the Olympic bubble have tested positive for COVID.”
The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) confirmed the cases shortly before the opening ceremony in the Chinese capital.
Separately, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for talks on COVID-19, including on the stalled investigation into the pandemic’s origins.
“We also discussed the need for stronger collaboration on Covid-19 virus origins, rooted in science and evidence,” Tedros says.
Results and news from days 1 & 2
Russian skier Alexander Bolshunov has won gold in the 30-kilometer skiathlon. Russia’s Denis Spitsov secured the silver, 1 minute, 11 seconds behind Bolshunov. Finland’s Iivo Niskanen held on for the bronze 2 minutes back.
The first event of the Alpine skiing schedule at the Beijing Olympics, the men’s downhill, has been postponed because of strong wind that made it too dangerous to race.
Australia’s first-ever Olympic mixed doubles curling team has pulled out of the Beijing Games after Tahli Gill returned a series of positive COVID-19 tests.
Zoi Sadowski Synnott won New Zealand’s first gold medal in Winter Olympics history, stomping down a pressure-packed run on her last trip down the mountain Sunday to win the title in women’s slopestyle.
China won its first gold of the Beijing Games in short track speedskating’s mixed team relay in the event’s Olympic debut.
Norwegian Therese Johaug won the first gold medal of the Beijing Olympics, finishing first in the women’s 15-kilometer cross-country skiathlon. Russian athlete Natalia Nepryaeva took silver.
Three-time snowboarding gold medalist Shaun White made it clear that the Beijing Games won’t just be his final Olympics.