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Beijing’s 2008 Olympics were a soft power victory for China, but 2022 may be another story

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Beijing's 2008 Olympics were a soft power victory for China, but 2022 may be another story
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Remembered today as an event in which record-breaking sporting achievements were matched only by the spectacular pageantry and organization of the Games, the success of the Beijing Olympics was no sure thing.

China had never hosted the Olympics before, and in the run-up to the 2008 Games — held under the slogan “One World, One Dream” — there were calls for a boycott over the country’s human rights records, concerns for how Beijing’s notorious smog might affect the health of athletes, and angry pro-Tibet protests along much of the Olympic Torch relay.

At home, Chinese organizers and athletes faced immense pressure to pull off not just sporting success, but to produce a monument to national pride, a soft-power showcase that would cement China’s place as an emerging global superpower.

That feeling of China becoming a leader on the world stage was reinforced by another major development of 2008: the global financial crisis. As economy after economy in the West was devastated, China escaped largely unscathed — and able to spend a record $43 billion on hosting a sporting event.

Some 14 years after hosting its inaugural Olympics, Beijing will become the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter editions of the Games, in February 2022.

While the Winter Games do not have quite the prestige of the Summer competition, a successful Olympics next year could be as valuable a soft power win for China as 2008 — especially if they are the first unconstrained Games to be held since the coronavirus pandemic, with the delayed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics looking ever more beleaguered.
Chinese President Xi Jinping — who last month visited several key Olympic venues — has been keenly aware of how the coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, has affected China’s standing around the world, with Beijing facing criticism for failing to contain it. A successful Beijing 2022, with hundreds of thousands of vaccinated, mask-free spectators packing stadiums, could serve as the ultimate proof of concept for China’s authoritarian political system, and Xi’s continued tight control over it.

“The 2022 Winter Olympics could help (Beijing) to revamp their image from a world factory to a world power.”Lee Jung-woo, University of Edinburgh

Lee Jung-woo, an expert on sports diplomacy and international relations at the University of Edinburgh, said the 2008 Games “enabled China to demonstrate its emerging economy status. The 2022 Winter Olympics could help them to revamp their image from a world factory to a world power.”

And a key lesson of 2008 for China, beyond the value of the Olympics for soft power, is that a successful Games can wipe out any memory of acrimony and hostility in the run-up to them.

Controversial games

As the Olympic torch — the symbol of the Games — made its way from Greece to China in the spring of 2008, its route was thronged with supporters, and protesters.
Dubbed the “Journey of Harmony” by organizers, the relay was anything but. Demonstrators brawled with police and security in London and Paris, where protesters succeeded in forcing the torch to be extinguished and its bearer hustled away. In San Francisco, officials shortened and changed the route to bypass angry crowds, and canceled a public ceremony.

Kai Mueller, executive director at the International Campaign for Tibet Germany (ICT), was involved in the protests. He said they came after months of lobbying the International Olympic Committee (IOC), various national and international sports associations, and Games sponsors, to raise longstanding concerns over human rights — particularly amid Beijing’s crackdown on religious and political freedoms in Chinese-controlled Tibet.

Responding at the time, then-IOC president Jacques Rogge called the protests a “crisis” and said the torch relay was not “the joyous party that we wished it to be.” At the same time, he claimed the Games could be a positive influence, advancing “the social agenda of China, including human rights,” comments that were not welcomed by Beijing.

But while they sparked fury in Beijing and caused considerable embarrassment to the IOC, the protests did not succeed in derailing the Games. Organizers pulled out all the stops to ensure the Games were a public relations triumph, making compromises on issues such as press freedom and human rights, even promising to allow protests — within strictly defined areas — in the Chinese capital.
Facing not just anger over the treatment of Tibetans, but outright claims of “genocide” against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China’s leaders may find it far harder to surf the wave of criticism this year than in 2008.

“The likelihood of a 2022 Olympic boycott is increasing by the day,” said Natasha Kassam, an analyst at the Lowy Institute, in Sydney, and a former Australian diplomat in China.

“Public opinion around the world has soured towards China, as grim realities of the Party-state become common knowledge. The level of public concern about human rights abuses in China in 2022 dwarfs the outrage around the 2008 Games,” she said.

Thirteen years ago, the Olympic slogan “One World, One Dream” sounded like the type of pablum typical of the Games anywhere. But now people may be a lot more wary of what exactly that Chinese “dream” might look like as China leans further into its authoritarian style of governance — and after Xi himself adopted that phrase as one of his key slogans.

In 2008, Beijing’s hosting of the Games was seen as a potential step towards further opening up and political reform in China, but the opposite has proved to be the case. While China seems unlikely to even pay lip service to the idea of liberalization this time around, foreign governments will also be far more skeptical of any possible gains, after patting themselves on the back ahead of 2008 only to be embarrassed when few of the supposed concessions were realized.

The IOC, for its part, is not pretending these Games stand a chance of influencing China’s political philosophy.

“The Olympic Games are not about politics,” Rogge’s successor, Thomas Bach, wrote last year. “Neither awarding the Games, nor participating, are a political judgment regarding the host country.”

Mueller, the Tibet activist, said this was typical of the IOC: “The narrative changes according to the circumstances. Back then, they said the Olympics would open the door to change … (now they say) the Olympics are non-political.”

New challenge

While it made nominal concessions to critics ahead of 2008, Beijing is unlikely to repeat this, said Jude Blanchette, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Xi’s China is not the China of 2008, and we shouldn’t expect too many conciliatory gestures, even on relatively banal requests like easing up on the web censorship for guests of hotels near the Olympic venues,” he said. “If anything, the Xi administration will tighten further to ensure there are no security issues.”

Nor is China in the same place economically. While definitely a major player in 2008, China was still an emerging economy of sorts, whereas now it is a global behemoth, challenging the US for the title of largest economy in the world. Since 2008, China’s GDP has grown from $4.6 trillion to $14.3 trillion, according to World Bank data. In recent years, Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, as well as trade deals with the European Union and across Asia, have tied the global economy ever more tightly to Beijing.

This could be a boon for Beijing’s attempts to stave off any significant boycott. Nick Marro, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, pointed out that “many developing nations haven’t been as vocal around Xinjiang as we’ve seen in the West,” as emerging markets remain “keen to continue attracting Chinese investment.”

Kassam, the Lowy analyst, said a formal boycott will be difficult for many countries, given the expected blowback from Beijing, while companies that publicly refuse to sponsor the Games will essentially be writing off the Chinese market. This month, Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalist state-run tabloid Global Times, predicted that “China will seriously sanction any country that follows such a call (to boycott).”

Even if such calls amount to nothing however, Beijing still faces the immense challenge of not only topping — or at least equaling — its own performance 14 years ago, but in crafting a new monument to China’s growth in prestige and power.

Counterintuitively, while the coronavirus has hurt China’s global reputation, pulling off the first Games since the pandemic began could make this job a lot easier. Expectations will be lower, especially if the Tokyo Games are scrapped, or even go ahead in a heavily-controlled, muted fashion — or, worse still, are scrapped.

“The likelihood of a 2022 Olympic boycott is increasing by the day.”Natasha Kassam, Lowy Institute

With coronavirus cases still very low across China, and a mass vaccination program underway, Beijing might be one of the best-positioned host cities to hold a traditional Olympics, particularly the Winter Games, which typically involve smaller crowds and fewer athletes than the Summer Games. With more than 21 million people living in Beijing, which is a short high-speed train ride from many of the venues, China also has a built-in audience — and 12 months in which to get them vaccinated.

Any comparisons between Beijing and Tokyo, however, should take into account the coronavirus situation in each Olympic host city.

Tokyo has been the epicenter of Japan’s outbreak, recording over a quarter of the country’s more than 420,000 total cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Beijing, which was placed under strict lockdown in the early days of the pandemic, has only officially recorded around 1,000 cases.

Timing is also an important factor. Vaccines were not in play when the Tokyo Games were postponed in 2020, and Japan only began its inoculation program this week. The 2022 Olympics will take place at the point when many countries will have had just enough time to vaccinate at least part of their populations.

But while the stage may appear set for China to capitalize on a successful Games as a propaganda victory for its handling of coronavirus and its authoritarian style of governance, the trajectory of the pandemic remains unpredictable and too many variables, not to mention variants, remain for any concrete predictions. And countries and companies may surprise pundits by following through on their calls for boycotts.

In the end, China’s leaders may hope that, like in 2008, after a lot of commotion in the run up to the event, all that is remembered about Beijing 2022 is a successful Games — and not the controversy.

CNN’s Ben Westcott contributed reporting.



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British Gymnastics faces legal action over alleged ‘systemic physical and psychological abuse’

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British Gymnastics faces legal action over alleged 'systemic physical and psychological abuse'
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“This is a landmark moment in our campaign for justice,” Claire Heafford, a former elite gymnast and one of the 17 claimants, said in the statement.

“This is not and has never been about a few bad apples, this is about decades of systemic abuse, encouraged and covered up by those at the top.

“The hopes and dreams of countless children and young adults of competing as professional gymnasts have been destroyed and their love for the sport is now shrouded in fear and suffering. My heart goes out to everyone who has felt this pain and have not yet spoken out — we want you to know that we are here, fighting on your side.”

In a statement sent to CNN, British Gymnastics said: “We took receipt of the Letter Before Action on the afternoon of 25th February. It would not be appropriate or fair to all parties for us to make any comment until we have had the opportunity for it to be fully considered. “

The claimants, who are all women, allege the abuse took place at clubs across the United Kingdom, all of which were affiliated with British Gymnastics, according to the statement from Hausfeld.

The claimants, who were between the ages of six and 23 at the time, allege physical abuse included “inappropriate use of physical force by coaches against gymnasts constituting physical assault,” pressure on gymnasts to continue training while injured and “abusive and harmful coaching techniques which have no justification in science or theory,” as detailed in the statement.

The Letter Before Action cites “consistent reports of coaches slapping, pushing, and using physical force to reprimand, punish, stretch, and/or ‘correct’ gymnasts during training.”

The claimants also allege coaches “excessively controlled” gymnasts’ diets and engaged in “widespread bullying and intimidation behaviour” against gymnasts and parents.

“The focus on weight served to create a culture of ‘body shaming’ for gymnasts,” states the Letter Before Action sent to British Gymnastics.

The Hausfeld statement says in nearly all cases, the alleged abuse has left gymnasts with lasting psychological and physical damage, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The letter follows the launching of a pressure campaign called Gymnasts for Change by Heafford and Olympic gymnast Jennifer Pinches in 2020.

“For too long we have seen British Gymnastics prioritise podiums over people, which has led to untold damage to the lives of young people,” Pinches said in the Hausfeld statement.

“It is a heart-breaking truth to face, knowing the level of abuse that we and so many others were subjected to. This is just the beginning of the sweeping changes that we are demanding, and the justice that we will fight for.”

In December, the CEO of British Gymnastics, Jane Allen, retired amid an independent inquiry into allegations of abuse in the sport.

Allen lauded the gymnasts who had spoken out about abuse as “very brave” in an October interview with the BBC and acknowledged the organization had “‘fallen short’ in protecting its athletes.”

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Shamima Begum: UK teen who joined ISIS not allowed to return home to fight for citizenship, court rules

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Shamima Begum: UK teen who joined ISIS not allowed to return home to fight for citizenship, court rules
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The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Robert Reed, said that the UK Court of Appeal made four errors last year when it ruled that Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to carry out her appeal.

Begum was 15 years old when in 2015 she left the UK with two school friends to join ISIS in Syria. She was stripped of her British citizenship by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid on February 19, 2019 upon being discovered in a northern Syrian refugee camp.

According to Reed, the Court of Appeal was mistaken in ruling that Begum’s right to a fair hearing should prevail over other competing rights.

“The right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations such as the safety of the public,” Reed said.

The UK Court of Appeal last year ruled that Begum should be granted leave to enter the UK for her appeal because otherwise it would not be “a fair and effective hearing.”

Reed added that the Court of Appeal did not give the Home Secretary’s assessment of the requirements to enter the UK “the respect it deserved,” adding that the court made their “own assessment of the requirements” despite an “absence of relevant evidence.”

The Supreme Court also ruled that Begum’s appeal against the revocation of her UK citizenship should be “postponed” until she can participate without “public safety being compromised.”

In his judgment Reed said Begum is currently being held at a camp in Syria. This is “not a perfect solution as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible,” he said.

“There is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind,” Reed added.

The decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship has come under fire from human rights campaigners and legal experts alike who argue that the revocation rendered her stateless and compromised her right to a fair appeal.

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GameStop stock is surging again: Shares close up more than 100%

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GameStop stock is surging again: Shares close up more than 100%
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Shares were halted once around 3:40pm ET after climbing nearly 74%, and again just over 10 minutes later after gaining 104%. GameStop’s trading volume was roughly three times higher the five-day average for the stock, according to data provider Refinitiv.

Less than an hour after the closing bell, the stock was on the move again — gaining nearly 90% in after-hours trading.

Having déjà vu yet? The surge comes about a month after a wild GameStop (GME) trading frenzy caused its stock to jump around 1,600% in a matter of days, though it quickly fell from highs around $350. The late January surge was fueled by individual retail investors, many from the Reddit page WallStreetBets, some of whom believed the GameStop was undervalued and others who wanted to squeeze hedge funds that had shorted the stock.
The jump in GameStop also comes a day after the company announced its chief financial officer would resign next month to help “accelerate GameStop’s transformation,” which could fuel investors who believe in the long-term value of the retailer and its ability to shift from relying on physical stores to an e-commerce sales model.
AMC (AMC), another “meme stock” involved in the trading frenzy last month, also jumped around 18% on Wednesday.

Redditors on WallStreetBets cheered as GameStop soared. Posts on the subreddit included diamond emojis (a reference to holding a stock long term) and titles like “NEXT STOP IS THE MOON BABY” with rocket emojis, representing a belief that the stock will continue its upward trajectory.

Some GameStop investors have talked publicly about not selling their positions in the company during last month’s trading frenzy because they believe in its long-term potential.

Around 4pm, the entire Reddit site was down for many users, though the company did not identify the cause of the outage. Within about half an hour, Reddit said it had identified the underlying issue and “systems are beginning to recover.”

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