The Winter Olympics are in the athletic and political spotlight

Anytime you bring together the world’s best athletes to compete, it is a special time.

As Americans, we may prefer the Super Bowl, World Series, and a multitude of other so-called world championships, but the Olympics are unique in that the best athletes from around the world participate.

In the 2018 Winter Olympics, more than 2,900 athletes from 92 countries participated in 102 events.

A quick Internet search showed that no tropical nation has ever won a Winter Olympic medal. The first warm-weather, but not tropical, nation participating in the Winter Olympics was Mexico.

From a spectator standpoint watching on TV, one of the challenges for the casual Winter Olympics viewer is that some competitions are judged subjectively. Only a true figure-skating aficionado has a real sense of who the best figure skaters are, for example. That doesn’t take anything away from those who participate in a sport that requires a lot of talent and athleticism. It is just difficult to differentiate who is best, particularly when the judging has political overtones.

It’s also not easy for me to watch downhill skiing or bobsledding for long periods of time, because there’s no head-to-head or side-by-side competition. It’s entirely based on time. Unless someone falls down, all of the skiers look about the same to me — very good and fast.

I confess that I find curling to be a fascinating, albeit odd, sport. It looks like a version of shuffleboard on ice. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there’s a lot of talent and skill involved. It’s just different.

Of course, what would the Olympics be without politics and controversy? Having this year’s competition in China brings its share of both.

As Team USA was preparing to send its athletes to the Beijing Olympics, the athletes were told to leave their personal phones at home. Why? ‘USA Today’ reported that the US Olympic team warned athletes to be wary of potential digital surveillance from the Chinese government while abroad.

Even though Beijing’s Olympic Organizing Committee said that China takes seriously the importance of protecting personal data, not everyone believes them.

“Personal information collected by Beijing 2022 will not be disclosed unless the disclosure is necessary,” the committee said.

Here’s a question. When exactly is personal information necessary to disclose?

The US wasn’t the only country concerned about security. The Dutch Olympic Committee said it was “anticipating Chinese surveillance during the games.”

Before the Olympic games started, China was under fire for numerous accusations of human rights abuse, including the repression of the Uyghur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region, and the uncertain situation of tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused a former top Communist Party official of sexual assault.

According to ‘Politico’, global leaders are conscious that for many athletes, the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they are reluctant to deprive them of that with a full-scale boycott. But to make a point, many governments diplomatically boycotted the Games.

The Biden administration announced on Dec. 6 that it would not send an official US delegation. White House press secretary Jen Psaki cited the “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang” as reasons for boycotting.

Other countries participating in a diplomatic boycott of the games include Lithuania, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, and Estonia.

Still other countries, such as New Zealand, Austria, Slovenia, Sweden, and The Netherlands, did not send officials to the games because of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions.

Concerned about the international backlash against the wave of diplomatic boycotts, the Chinese government reportedly hired western PR professionals to spread an alternative narrative through social media.

There is a first of sorts. Skiers and snowboarders are competing in the first Winter Olympics that relies completely on artificial snow, further straining dry regions around Beijing, according to Bloomberg News.

It was estimated that China could need as much as two million cubic meters of water – enough to fill 800 Olympic-sized swimming pools – to create enough fake snow to cover ski runs and access roads during the Games.

Through it all, including fake snow, the Games will go on.

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