The Olympic Games Return to China, in a Changed World

Audio availableListen to this storyListen and subscribe: Apple | Spotify | Google | Wherever You ListenSign up to receive our weekly newsletter of the best New Yorker podcasts.Photograph from Sipa Asia / ShutterstockMuch has changed since China last hosted the Olympics, during the 2008 Summer Games. Those Games were widely seen as greatly improving China’s…

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Much has changed since China last hosted the Olympics, during the 2008 Summer Games. Those Games were widely seen as greatly improving China’s international reputation. But the 2022 Winter Games have put a spotlight on the country’s human-rights abuses, most notably the current genocide against Uyghurs and Kazakhs. The U.S. and other nations are boycotting the Games in a partial way, leaving government officials home while allowing athletes to participate, to avoid a bitter disappointment like that in 1980, when America didn’t compete in Moscow. The effect of these actions on China may be limited, but the tensions could be very difficult for athletes to navigate. Peter Hessler, for many years The New Yorker’s China correspondent, asks David Remnick, “When an athlete says something about the internment camps in Xinjiang and the oppression of Muslim people in China, what is the Chinese response going to be?” “The I.O.C. has really left them out there. The I.O.C. . . . basically just washed their hands of it. It’s really up to the athletes,” he notes. “A lot of people I’ve talked to are very concerned about this.” At the same time, the sports reporter Louisa Thomas notes that these Games may garner little American support or attention. The delayed Tokyo Games last year “were already the least-watched Games in history,” and there are few big-name U.S. athletes for NBC to promote. “I even have a lot of friends who have no idea there’s about to be an Olympics,” Thomas says. “Which is extraordinary.”

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