Members of the ‘No Beijing 2022’ campaign try to hang banners from the Acropolis
Sunshine at the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece was short enough to light the backup flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in Sunday’s dress rehearsal.
It was the second blow of the day in the Acropolis of Athens after two protesters trying to raise a banner to draw attention to human rights abuses in China were detained.
There has been widespread international criticism of China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, as well as its crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong and its policies towards Tibet and Taiwan.
But the International Olympic Committee shrugged off the issue, saying it was out of its purview.
Health measures to flame-light the second epidemic in ancient Olympia in the southern Peloponnese region have meant that much of the usual spectacle is being cut back. There will be no spectators on Monday, and only three runners will take part in the symbolic relay that would normally last for days.
The first torchbearer, Greek alpine ski racer Ioannis Antonio, said his participation in the ceremony was “one of the greatest honors for an athlete.”
“And much more because this is the Olympics for which I am trying to qualify,” he said.
For fear of getting drenched in the rain, the dress was not even on Sunday’s dress rehearsal. Instead, young actresses and dancers playing pagan priestesses went through their routine of looking inconsistent in sportswear and sandals to save their flowing tunics for Monday, when better weather is forecast.
The flame will be taken to Athens and handed over to Beijing organizers on Tuesday at the renovated ancient stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.
2 activists detained
Earlier on Sunday, two activists attempted to hang a banner from a scaffolding on the Acropolis before being taken into custody. Human rights activists also protested during the flame-lighting ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, and disrupted the international torch relay.
The women, 18-year-old Tibetan student Tsela Zoksang and 22-year-old exiled Hong Kong activist Joy Siu, both US citizens, are members of the “No Beijing 2022” campaign, the New York-based organization Students for a Free. Tibet said.
A security officer removed the banner, but activists remained on the scaffold and posted a Tibetan flag and a small banner proclaiming the “Free Hong Kong Revolution”. They raised slogans including “free Tibet,” “boycott Beijing 2022” and “no freedom, no sport” before police arrived and detained them.
The Beijing Winter Games will run from February 4-20. Only spectators from mainland China will be allowed to participate. Everyone at the Olympics – including athletes – will be expected to be vaccinated, or to spend 21 days in quarantine.
The Paralympics are scheduled to run from March 4 to 13.
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