Swedish gold medalist blasts 'irresponsible' decision to hold Olympics in Beijing

Nils van der Poel didn't shy away from voicing his concerns about China's human-rights records after winning two gold medals in the Beijing Games. (Getty)
Nils van der Poel didn't shy away from voicing his concerns about China's human-rights record after winning two gold medals in the Beijing Games. (Getty)

Despite an effort from the IOC and beyond to keep politics out of Beijing, Swedish gold medalist Nils van der Poel is making a definitive statement: Holding the Olympic Games in China was “extremely irresponsible.”

Despite highlighting some positive experiences at the 2022 Beijing Games, the 25-year-old speed skater couldn’t look past the host country’s reproachable human rights record.

“The Olympic Village was very nice, the Chinese people I met were absolutely amazing,” said van der Poel to Swedish outlet Sportbladet. “The Olympics is a lot, it’s a fantastic sporting event where you unite the world and nations meet. But so did Hitler before invading Poland (when Berlin hosted in 1936), and so did Russia before invading Ukraine (Sochi 2014).

“I think it is extremely irresponsible to give it to a country that violates human rights as blatantly as the Chinese regime is doing.”

Governments and human-rights groups are accusing China of conducting a genocide of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang – where over one million people have been detained in “re-education camps,” and allegedly subjected to forced labour, forced sterilization for women and cultural assimilation. Other allegations include torture and sexual abuse.

The Chinese government has denied any allegations and stated that these “re-education camps” are intended to combat terrorism and help people avoid poverty.

Several governments, including Canada, the United States and Great Britain, have diplomatically boycotted the Beijing Games – meaning no government officials have attended – but no country has fully shunned this edition of the Winter Olympics, instead opting for the symbolic gesture.

Even van der Poel, who is more than brave for speaking out, waited until he was home after winning the men’s 5,000-metre and setting a world record in the 10,000-metre to earn a second gold medal.

It’s tough to ask any athlete to drop four years of preparation for their one shining moment on the only stage that garners widespread recognition for many sports because of a decision from the IOC – let alone an athlete that’s committed enough to release a 62-page training program.

But at least he’s not shying away from the realities of the country where he’s just achieved so much success.

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