After the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics were delayed a year, COVID-19 is once again impacting Games. No tickets were sold to the general public, meaning there will be no friends and family in the stands.
The Beijing Winter Olympics officially kicked off Friday with a muted opening ceremony in the city’s iconic “Bird’s Nest” stadium amid the harsh criticism of China’s human rights record and tight restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics were delayed a year, COVID-19 is once again impacting the Games. No tickets were sold to the general public, meaning there will be no friends and family in the stands. The athletes aren’t allowed to visit anything outside a tightly controlled perimeter. If an athlete tests positive for COVID-19, it will likely signal an end to their Olympics.
“Unfortunately, the global pandemic is still a reality for all of us,” IOC President Thomas Bach told the crowd, adding that some athletes missed out on the Games due to COVID-19.
China’s human rights record has been called into question, leading to a diplomatic boycott that meant few dignitaries were in attendance Friday. Chinese President Xi Jinping was joined by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 80,000-seat stadium was about 40 percent full with invited guests, according to NBC.
Xi officially declared the Games open before the flame was carried into the stadium, handed off by Chinese athletes, each born in a different decade, starting with the 1950s. The cauldron was lit by two athletes, including Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross-country skier Chinese state media said is of Uyghur heritage. China has been accused of genocide by the U.S. State Department for its widespread suppression of Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The suppression of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, the repression of Tibetans and the unknown whereabouts of tennis star Peng Shuai also loom over the Games as they begin.