Chinese Checkers

Beijing Winter Olympics 2002 Logo

In two weeks the Winter Olympic Games ™ will begin in China.

I won’t be watching.

I will be boycotting these games. My physical attendance was never going to happen, so my boycott will be of the television kind. And I strongly urge you to join with me on this boycott journey.

First of all let’s face it, nobody really cares about winter sports unless they or a family member are playing them. Strapping boards on your feet and sliding down a mountain trying to be one tenth of a second faster than the other guy is not compelling sports viewing. Really, it is like auto racing, we’re just waiting for the crash. Don’t get me started on ice skating, a “sport” tailored to be a cesspool of corruption. Ice hockey? I have the NHL for that, if I really need it. Luge, bobsled, cross country skiing? Fine things to do, but a bore to watch. Now curling, that’s something I could get into, but until they let the curlers (don’t call them athletes) play it in their natural habitats, ie, with a beer can in their hands, I’ll pass.

But all that’s just my distaste for winter sports. That’s not the real reason I’ll be boycotting.

Did I mention these games are taking place in China? You remember China. The land that censorship loves so much it bought a timeshare there. The land of suppression and repression. Where surveilling leads to jailing. Where human rights are thrown into the back seat of a police car never to be heard from again. Yeah, that China.

China, or to be more correct the city of Beijing, was selected to host these Olympics through some pretty dubious means. Back in 2014 when the selection election was held, Oslo Norway was the leading candidate. That made perfect sense since, well, Oslo is well known for it’s winters, i.e., they have plenty of naturally occurring snow and ice. But at the last minute the International Olympic Committee (IOC) threw in demands such as:

“Diva-like demands for luxury treatment” for the IOC members themselves, such as special lanes on all roads only to be used by IOC members and cocktail reception at the Royal Palace with drinks paid for by the royal family. IOC also “demanded control over all advertising space throughout Oslo” to be used exclusively by IOC’s sponsors, something that is not possible in Norway because Norway is a liberal democracy where the government doesn’t own or control “all advertising space throughout Oslo” much of which is privately owned and has no authority to give a foreign private organization exclusive use of an entire city and private property within it.

Now the IOC is pretty well known for being a little footloose and fancy free when it comes to demanding things from potential host cities, but that was ridiculous. It actually sounds to me like the IOC made these requirements with the idea of gaming the election so that ONLY Beijing would be able to win. As it stands the only competitor for these games after Oslo pulled out was Almaty Kazakhstan, another Asian country with dubious credentials when it comes to human rights (but notably better than the Chinese).

So Beijing becomes the first city to ever host both a summer and a winter Olympics and they will have done both in the span of 14 years, far quicker than any other two time host city ever has. Then again, while once upon a time cities fought tooth and nail to get an Olympics now they mostly have an ambivalence about them, especially the winter games. Let’s face it, as a ski destination you only have a few months to make money and if those months have to be given over to preparing for and then hosting an event you don’t make money on, well thanks but no thanks.

But having the IOC game the system for them is the least of my problems with China hosting these games. Let’s talk about what they are requiring of those attending the games, both participants and partisans.

The Chinese brook no dissent. Not from their citizens and not from those who travel to or through their territory. They have made it quite clear that any form of protest against any of their many human rights abuses but especially their genocide of the ethnic Uyghur Muslim population will not be tolerated. We’re not talking about throw you out of the country, we’re talking about throw you in prison. And they count just voicing an opinion to be a protest.

Human Rights Watch has warned athletes and attendees to

“stay silent” about human rights issues as they will “not be protected” in an “Orwellian surveillance state”.

The IOC’s response? Crickets chirping in the night. They made some half hearted statement that the IOC’s rules are the rules the games run on, but it was not the forceful full throated response one would hope for against an “Orwellian surveillance state” saying the direct opposite of what the IOC rules state.

And then there is the issue of the app.

In order to be allowed to attend the Olympics an athlete, media member, or an attendee MUST download the MY2002 app on their phone. This app is supposedly so that China can track COVID cases while also being a fun and convenient way for people to be able to navigate the games. Last week a Canadian tech lab ran a diagnostic on the app and discovered flaws so large in it’s security that it appears they were deliberately put in there. We’re talking about flaws that allow personal and private information to be accessed by unknown third parties, except we know exactly who the third party would be, the party that built the app in the first place, the Chinese government. The app also has a handy auto censor feature that will flag “inappropriate” messages, perhaps even from other apps on the phone like WhatsApp or Facebook.  The Canadian team was so worried about this they told their athletes to leave their personal phones at home and they would give out free burner phones to be used during the games and thrown away after. It gives a whole new meaning to Chinese Checkers.

Would it surprise anyone if this app puts backdoor access points on a phone even after you have uninstalled it? If it does then I have a bridge in China for you to buy.

In the “era of apps” this is the first time a host city has demanded you have their app on your phone. It certainly explains one reason why China was so hot to get these Olympics. 2008 was just before the advent of the app culture, you can almost see Chinese officials smacking their foreheads and muttering “oh what we could have done with that”. So they went out and said let’s get a do-over, with the assistance of the IOC. Yeah COVID gives them great cover so we’ll never know how they would have insisted everyone put this app on their phone but I’m sure they had a plan for it. What they going to do with the information garnered from the app I don’t know, but this much I do know, I wouldn’t want that app on my phone. And yes, both Apple and Google approved the app for their respective app stores and we know how far they have bent over backwards to get in bed with the Chinese government.

So what can you dear reader do about this? You can join me in boycotting these games.

It is all about the money. NBC paid over $7B to extend their rights to televise the Olympics through 2032. Have they looked the other way at all the shenanigans the Chinese are pulling? Well lets just say they haven’t been doing any hard hitting reporting on what is going on, though they did just the other day say their coverage of these games will include “geopolitical” issues. That only came after pressure from human rights groups forced them into making that concession. The only reason there will even be that is that the vast majority of their announcers will not actually be in China when the events are happening. Oh, did you miss the announcement that their announcers will be sitting at home commenting on the events? Might be because of according to NBC “changing conditions related to COVID” or maybe it’s because they don’t want their announcers having to put that honeypot of an app on their phones so the Chinese can listen in the next time one of them is getting ready to interview a Chinese dissident. Or the President of the United States.

If you don’t watch then their ratings go down. If their ratings tank then maybe the next time the IOC wants to play footsie with “an Orwellian surveillance state” they’ll step in and say not on our dime. Maybe they’ll say we paid a lot of money to televise this event and if no one is watching because of the crap you and the government pulled then maybe you need to send us the money back. I’d add “and good luck getting someone else to pay you as much as we did”.

I intend to take it one step further and not even click on any link leading to stories about sporting events connected to the games. Should there be a massive protest related to the games I’ll want to know about that, but I’m not holding my breath.

As human beings it is past time for us to take back the cause of freedom. The Chinese government is using the good will of the Olympics in order to squash political dissent against themselves in their never ending drive to eradicate the notion of a free, democratic world. Admittedly this is a small step, one that might not be noticed immediately.

But as so many of those Olympic “up close and personal stories” would say: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step.

Let us leave with what was the introduction to ski jumping for those of my generation, aka the agony of defeat.

Shapiro Out