Olympic chiefs deny responsibility for Putin not wearing mask

Olympic chiefs say Vladimir Putin walking around the opening ceremony without a mask ‘isn’t their responsibility’ – because he wasn’t on their guest list after ‘being invited by the Chinese Government’

  • Olympic chiefs denied responsibility for allowing Vladimir Putin not to wear a mask at the opening ceremony
  • The Russian president was invited by the Chinese Government rather than by chiefs at the Olympics  
  • He appeared to be asleep as Ukraine entered the stadium during the opening amid fears he is about to invade 

Olympic chiefs have denied they were responsible for allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to flounce around the Olympic opening ceremony without a mask.

Putin, it was revealed, was invited by the Chinese Government rather than Olympic chiefs and was not on their guest list.

A source said Putin declined the offer join every other person in the VIP box and the iconic Bird’s Nest Stadium in masking up.

He had earlier been in talks with China President Xi Jinping where the two leaders talked about the Covid-19 global battle to curtail the virus.

An Olympics spokesman told Mail Online: ‘He (Putin) was invited by the Chinese government and therefore subject to the Chinese state protocol.’ 

Pictures from yesterday’s opening ceremony also showed Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan not wearing a mask at certain points.

Vladimir Putin had his eyes closed and hands folded as Ukraine’s athletes arrived at the Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony in Beijing yesterday, seemingly pretending to be asleep

There are fears that Putin is about to invade Ukraine (athletes pictured entering the stadium), sparking a bloody war and the most-serious standoff between East and West since the Cold War

Putin and Khan are amid the world leaders attending the Olympics despite many countries’ diplomatic boycott of the games. 

Despite not being Winter Olympics powerhouses, leaders from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE are all attending, Al Jazeera reported.  

The five Central Asian nations – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – are also ignoring the boycott, as well as Argentina and Ecuador.

Putin and Jinping made quite the statement as the pair met before the opening ceremony yesterday and were both pictured not wearing masks, although were careful with preventative measures amidst the pandemic.

The Russian president had snubbed Ukraine’s athletes as he appeared to take a nap as they arrived at the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Beijing yesterday, a moment of political drama as the threat of war hung heavy over the Games. 

The Russian strongman – who attended despite Russia being officially banned due to doping – sat with his arms folded and eyes closed for several seconds on TV feeds as Ukraine’s athletes processed into the Bird’s Nest stadium on Friday.

It comes amid fears he is about to invade their home country, sparking the worst standoff with the West since the Cold War.

Russia does have athletes at the Games, but they are forced to compete as the ‘Russian Olympic Committee’ and cannot use the country’s flag on their uniforms or play the national anthem when they win. 

Meanwhile Xi Jinping received a standing ovation as he arrived to watch some 3,000 performers take part in the ceremony, which also featured frog-marching People’s Liberation Army soldiers hoisting the country’s flag as the national anthem played.

The Communist Chinese regime chose a Uyghur athlete to light the Olympic flame in a blatant propaganda attempt to deflect claims that it is guilty of genocide of the Muslim minority people in the north west Xinjiang region.    

Earlier in the day, Xi had given his backing to Putin over Ukraine – signing a joint document that condemned America’s influence in Europe, opposed the further expansion of NATO, while also criticising Washington’s ‘negative impact on peace and stability’ in the Asia-Pacific region – meaning the South China Sea and Taiwan. 

Another moment of tension came as Taiwan’s athletes entered the stadium as ‘Chinese Taipei’. Taiwan views itself as a self-governing nation, but Beijing views it as a breakaway province and has threatening to ‘reunify’ it by force. The team was set to boycott the games over their team name, but were told by organisers they had to attend. 

Putin was one of just a handful of foreign dignitaries to attend the events after most Western leaders boycotted over China’s human rights record and persecutions of Uighur Muslims in eastern Xinjiang province.

The world leaders were joined in the stands by just a handful of ‘select’ guests as the event takes place inside a Covid-secure bubble to comply with China’s strict zero Covid policy. 

Pictures from yesterday’s opening ceremony also showed Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan not wearing a mask at certain points

Putin and Jinping made quite the statement as the pair met before the opening ceremony yesterday and were both pictured not wearing masks, although were careful with preventative measures amidst the pandemic

President Xi Jinping received a minute-long standing ovation as he arrived in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium to watch the Opening Ceremony on Friday

The Communist Chinese regime chose a Uyghur athlete to light the Olympic flame in a blatant propaganda attempt to deflect claims that it is guilty of genocide of the Muslim minority people in the north west Xinjiang region.

Xi watched as Taiwan’s athletes were forced to enter the stadium under the banner of ‘Chinese Taipei’. Taiwan views itself as a separate country, while China views it as a province and is threatening to ‘reunify’ it by force. Taiwan was going to boycott the games over the name, but was forced by the IOC to attend

Fireworks explode over the Bird Nest stadium in Beijing as the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics comes to a close

Fireworks light up the night sky above the Beijing National Stadium at the Olympic Opening Ceremony on Friday

The Chinese national flag flies in the Olympic Stadium as an Olympic Torch placed in the centre of a giant snowflake made up of individual flakes bearing the names of competing nations is hoisted in the background

China takes part in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic  Games

Soldiers carried the Chinese flag across the stadium before hoisting it up a pole as the national anthem was sung

Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army carried the Chinese flag to be hoisted up a pole during the ceremony

China is aiming to put on a patriotic display, despite global tensions over Taiwan and Ukraine overshadowing the event



Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon (left), Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (centre), and Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (right) were among world leaders at the event

President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach salutes the crowd during the opening ceremony

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games

Young performers display colourful cartoon strips as they take part in the Opening Ceremony, with most of the participants being young people

3,000 performers took part in the slimmed-down ceremony – compared to 15,000 at the 2008 Olympics – with most of them 

Dinigeer Yilamujiang, left, and Zhao Jiawen, both Chinese Olympians, light the final flame in the Brid Nest stadium in Beijing as the Games gets underway

Performers take part in the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at the National Stadium

President Xi hosts Vladimir Putin in Beijing for start of the Winter Olympics

China’s President Xi Jinping yesterday met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the first time in nearly two years, with the pair drawing closer as tensions grow with the West. 

Xi has not left China since January 2020, when the country was grappling with its initial Covid-19 outbreak and locked down the central city of Wuhan where the virus was first detected.

He is now readying to meet more than 20 leaders as Beijing kicks off a Winter Olympics it hopes will be a soft-power triumph and shift focus away from a build-up blighted by a diplomatic boycott and Covid fears.

Putin’s jet touched down in the Chinese capital earlier yesterday, state broadcaster CCTV reported, on the day of the Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

 

The two leaders are set to share talks before their nations release a joint statement reflecting their ‘common views’ on security and other issues, a top Kremlin adviser said at a Wednesday press briefing.

The two strongmen will then attend the Olympic opening ceremony in the evening. 

Putin remains the highest-profile guest at the event following the decision by the US, UK and others not to send officials in protest over China’s human rights abuses and its treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. 

The Putin-Xi talks are expected to focus on coordinating their countries’ foreign policies, with Mr Putin writing in an article published on Thursday by the Chinese news agency Xinhua that Moscow and Beijing play an ‘important stabilising role’ in global affairs and help make international affairs ‘more equitable and inclusive’.

The Russian president has criticised ‘attempts by some countries to politicise sports to the benefit of their ambitions’, an apparent reference to a US-led diplomatic boycott, which does not affect the participation of athletes in the Games. 

Putin also defied his own hosts by appearing maskless at the Olympic Stadium, despite strict Chinese rules stating masks must be worn. Even Xi was masked, as was every other guest in the VIP box. 

Heavy fines and arrests are made on those in China who refuse to wear masks and the obedience is near 100 per cent. One observer said: ‘Putin arrived as if he was the emperor. It was pretty rude of him.’

Separately, a Russian Olympic official was filmed arguing with a Ukrainian official shortly before the ceremony took place – appearing to brand him a ‘loser’ and a ‘b*****d’ despite Olympic organisers insisting the Games would symbolise peace and togetherness in an increasingly divided world. 

Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, the man behind the mind-blowing Beijing 2008 opening ceremony, which also took place in the Birds Nest stadium, masterminded yesterday’s event.  

Tickets for the opening ceremony as well as other Games events were not sold publicly with only those specially invited able to attend due to fears of the spread of Covid, leading to concerns that an absence of euphoric crowds may impact the atmosphere inside stadiums. No international fans are allowed at the Games.

But also missing are government officials from Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, United States and India who are initiating a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics over China’s human rights record, particularly over its treatment of the Uighurs.

They are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group in the Xinjiang autonomous region of China, which the UN has claimed have been subject of severe human rights violations at the hands of the state.

China has denied the allegations and warned nations taking part in the boycott that they will ‘pay a price’ for their ‘mistake.’ But athletes from those countries will be participating in the Games.

High stakes international politics also featured behind the scenes of the opening ceremony which was attended by guest of honour, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

He met his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping ahead of the event taking place to discuss the international crisis unfolding in Ukraine, which according to reports from both countries, has ‘brought them together.’

Putin is also using his visit to the Winter Games to meet the leaders of 20 other nations in what is being viewed as a diplomatic push to win them over as tensions in Ukraine continue to simmer.

Despite the heated political backdrop to the Games, it is Covid that is causing the most concern.

Around 60,000 people, including athletes, coaches, officials, federation delegates, volunteers and media personnel, are in China for the Games and are being made to take Covid tests every day of their stay.

Competitions will take place within a ‘closed loop’ that will allow them to move between accommodation and venues on official transport. They are not allowed to move freely in public.

British interest at the games is particularly high, despite the country’s mediocre track record in winter sports.

Team GB’s 50-strong squad of athletes was led into the Bird’s Nest stadium by Union Jack flag bearers, veteran skier Dave Ryding and curler Eve Muirhead.

British athletes will be looking to build on the five medals it won at the previous Winter Olympics.

Charlotte Banks is considered to be Britain’s best hope of a gold in the snowboard cross. Other medal prospects include Brad Hall in the bobsleigh; Gus Kenworthy and Kirsty Muir in freestyle skiing; curlers Bruce Mouat and Jennifer Dodds and Dave Ryding in alpine skiing. 

The Olympics – and the opening ceremony – are always an exercise in performance for the host nation, a chance to showcase its culture, define its place in the world, flaunt its best side. That’s something China in particular has been consumed with for decades. But at this year’s Beijing Games, the gulf between performance and reality will be particularly jarring.

Fourteen years ago, a Beijing opening ceremony that featured massive pyrotechnic displays and thousands of card-flipping performers set a new standard of extravagance to start an Olympics that no host since has matched. It was a fitting start to an event often billed as China’s ‘coming out.’

Now, no matter how you view it, China has arrived – and the opening ceremony returns to the same now-familiar, lattice-encased National Stadium known as the Bird’s Nest, built in consultation with Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

But the hope for a more open China that accompanied those first Games has faded.

For Beijing, these Olympics are a confirmation of its status as world player and power. But for many outside China, particularly in the West, they have become a confirmation of the country’s increasingly authoritarian turn.

Chinese authorities are crushing pro-democracy activism, tightening their control over Hong Kong, becoming more confrontational with Taiwan and interning Muslim Uyghurs in the far west – a crackdown the U.S. government and others have called genocide.

The pandemic also weighs heavily on this year’s Games, just as it did last summer in Tokyo. More than two years after the first COVID-19 cases were identified in China’s Hubei province, nearly 6 million human beings have died and hundreds of millions more around the world have been sickened.

The host country itself claims some of the lowest rates of death and illness from the virus, in part because of sweeping lockdowns imposed by the government that were instantly apparent to anyone arriving to compete in or attend the Winter Games.

In the lead-up to the Olympics, China’s suppression of dissent was also on display in the controversy surrounding Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. She disappeared from public view last year after accusing a former Communist Party official of sexual assault. Her accusation was quickly scrubbed from the internet, and discussion of it remains heavily censored.

Concerned for her safety, tennis greats and others outside China demanded on social media to know, ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ A surreal cat-and-mouse game has since unfolded, with Peng making a brief appearance at a youth tennis event and speaking by video link with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach as part of efforts to allay concerns about her.

While the political issues have overshadowed the run-up, as with any Olympics, attention will shift Saturday – at least partially – from the geopolitical issues of the day to the athletes themselves.

All eyes turn now to whether Alpine skiing superstar Mikaela Shiffrin, who already owns three Olympic medals, can exceed sky-high expectations. How snowboard sensation Shaun White will cap off his Olympic career – and if the sport’s current standard-bearer, Chloe Kim, will wow us again. And just how many medals Russia’s figure skaters will run away with – though Nathan Chen and the rest of the Americans put a roadblock in their way Friday at the team competition.

China, meanwhile, is pinning its hopes on Eileen Gu, the 18-year-old, American-born freestyle skier who has chosen to compete for her mother’s native country and could win three gold medals.

Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games at the National Stadium

Children sing during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing on Friday evening

Illuminated doves are carried by performers during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics

Child performers dressed in traditional dragon costumes pose for the camera ahead of the start of the Opening Ceremony

Children perform in the pre-show during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics

A Chinese performer carrying a colourful wreath takes part in the Opening Ceremony in Beijing yesterday 

Young performers holding colourful pompoms take part in the Opening Ceremony at Beijing’s Bird Nest stadium

Fans take their seats inside the stadium prior to the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing, after a select number were invited

Spectators gather for the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games

Performers dance in formation during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

Performers dance in formation during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

As they compete, the conditions imposed by Chinese authorities offer a stark contrast to the party atmosphere of the 2008 Games. Some flight attendants, immigration officials and hotel staff have been covered head-to-toe in hazmat gear, masks and goggles. There is a daily testing regimen for all attendees, followed by lengthy quarantines for all those testing positive.

Even so, there is no passing from the Olympic venues through the ever-present cordons of chain-link fence – covered in cheery messages of a ‘shared future together’ – into the city itself, another point of divergence with the 2008 Games.

China itself has also transformed in the years since. Then, it was an emerging global economic force making its biggest leap yet onto the global stage by hosting those Games. Now it is a fully realized superpower hosting these. Xi, who was the head of the 2008 Olympics, now runs the entire country and has encouraged a personality-driven campaign of adulation.

Gone are the hopeful statements from organizers and Western governments that hosting the Olympics would pressure the ruling Communist Party to clean up what they called its problematic human rights record and to become a more responsible international citizen.

Today, three decades after its troops crushed massive democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds and perhaps thousands of Chinese, the government has locked up more than 1 million members of minority groups, mostly Muslim Uyghurs from its far-western Xinjiang region, in mass internment camps. The situation has led human rights groups to dub these the ‘Genocide Games.’

China says the camps are ‘vocational training and education centers’ that are part of an anti-terror campaign. It denies any human rights violations and says it has restored stability to Xinjiang, a region it insisted in the months after the 9/11 attacks was rife with extremism, often with little evidence.

Such behavior was what led leaders of the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada, among others, to impose a diplomatic boycott on these Games, shunning appearances alongside Chinese leadership while allowing their athletes to compete.

Right from the beginning, the IOC’s choice of China was met with criticism from human rights groups, but Beijing was seen as a reliable option – after four European cities, including Oslo and Stockholm, pulled out for political or financial reasons. That left only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Outside the Olympic ‘bubble’ that separates regular Beijingers from Olympians and their entourages, some expressed enthusiasm and pride at the world coming to their doorstep. Zhang Wenquan, a collector of Olympic memorabilia, showed off his wares Friday while standing next to a 2008 mascot. He was excited, but the excitement was tempered by the virus that has changed so much for so many.

‘I think the effect of the fireworks is going to be much better than it in 2008,’ he said. ‘I really look forward to the opening ceremony. I actually wanted to go to the venue to watch it. I have been trying so hard to watch it at the scene. But because of the epidemic, there may be no chance.’

Fireworks explode over the Olympic rings during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games

Fireworks are seen exploding over the top of China’s National Stadium, otherwise known as the Bird Nest, in Beijing

A huge firework display lights up the night sky during the concluding stages of the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Beijing

Fireworks in the shape of the Olympic rings rise into the sky above performers and a snowflake bearing the last Olympic torch in the concluding moments of the Opening Ceremony

The Olympic flame is hoisted above performers taking part in the Opening Ceremony in Beijing

A close-up view of children bearing light-up doves during the Opening Ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics

Performer’s dance during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium

Performer’s dance during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics guests describe ‘dystopian’ scenes inside the village after being greeted by bartenders in full hazmat suits and robots spraying disinfectant under Zero Covid policy

‘Dystopian’ scenes from inside Beijing Olympic village include barmen in full PPE mixing cocktails and robots spraying clouds of disinfectant into the air as China attempts to host a Covid-free Games.

Video shot inside the Nanshanli Condotel on Thursday reveal journalists and Olympic personnel in light-touch masks mixing with hotel staff wearing full hazmat suits due to fears the Games could become a super-spreader event.

A Reuters reporter inside the hotel described the atmosphere as ‘dystopian’, saying the air smells like disinfectant due to the number of times floors and walls are sprayed, while all food service arrives in hotel rooms plastic-wrapped. 

China has agreed to waive its typically-stringent border rules for around 11,000 guests and athletes attending the Olympics, allowing them into the country with no quarantine provided they are fully vaccinated.

A bartender inside a hotel in Zhangjiakou – one of three cities hosting the winter Olympics – mixes cocktails while dressed in full PPE

A robot trundles through communal areas of one Beijing hotel, spraying the air with disinfectant which guests said left a noticeable smell

But throughout the event – which kicked off yesterday and lasts until February 20 – they will be confined inside a Covid ‘closed loop’ which is designed to almost totally cut them off from the outside world to stop the virus spreading.

Some 20,000 local volunteers helping to stage the games will also be isolated. 

The ‘loop’ system is spread across three competition zones located 110 miles apart – in Beijing, nearby Yanqing, and Zhangjiakou, which is slightly further afield.

Athletes, their teams, and foreign journalists will stay in hotels and the Athlete’s Village for the duration of the games – with only the PPE-clad staff allowed inside.

Around 70 hotels are part of the system, with those in downtown Beijing literally fenced off and guarded by police to stop unauthorised people getting inside.

In order to get between the hotels, conference centres and venues that will be used for the Olympic events, an elaborate transport system has been designed.

High speed trains linking the three competition zones will be segregated to ensure athletes and the wider public don’t mix, while 4,000 buses have been brought in for the sole purpose of carrying guests.

A chef inside one of the ‘closed loop’ hotels prepares breakfast for guests while dressed in full PPE including gloves and a face shield

Everyone inside the ‘closed loop’, including 11,000 foreigners and 20,000 locals, will need to be tested daily for Covid – with anyone who is infected removed

Reception staff at one of the Beijing hotels dressed in a face shield and mask stands behind a plastic shield to protect against Covid

These have been given specially dedicated lanes on the highways linking the competition zones – with locals facing fines if they stray into them.

At the venues, Games participants will be physically separated from the wider public with dedicated entrances, exits, and viewing areas.

Any athletes who arrived without first being vaccinated were forced to undergo 21-day isolation, while any who tested positive on arrival were also forced to isolate.

The system was enough to break one Belgian athlete – skeleton racer Kim Meylemans – who was forced into isolation after a positive test.

Three days of isolation in Beijing followed by two negative tests led her to believe she was being freed to join the other athletes, but she was instead shipped to another facility where she was told she would have to spend another seven days.

Meylemans then put out a tearful plea on Instagram saying she was not sure how much more she could take, before the International Olympic Committee intervened.

The 25-year-old is now back in the Olympic Village, albeit in an isolation wing. 

China has maintained a ‘zero COVID’ strategy throughout the global pandemic, aggressively isolating and tracing coronavirus cases to keep its official exposure low.

Mainland China has reported 106,202 infections and 4,636 coronavirus-related deaths since the onset of the pandemic, though doubts have been raised about the reliability of that data.

A guard is seen behind fences delineating the closed-loop bubble’ set up by China as a preventative measure against Covid

Passengers within the closed loop system on board the bullet train heading from Beijing’s Qinghe railway station to Taizicheng

Peoples Liberation Army soldiers march along the perimeter of the closed loop system at the Big Air Shougang stadium ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics

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