• REUTERS

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The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will come into sharp focus with the ceremonial torch-lighting ceremony in Greece’s ancient Olympia on Monday, but opposition to the Games continues to grow more vocal.

The Chinese capital will become the first city to host both the Winter and Summer Games when the event begins Feb. 4, but as was the case with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, protests and calls for boycotts over the country’s human rights record have marred the buildup.

Rights groups and U.S. lawmakers have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone the Games and relocate the event unless China ends what the U.S. deems as ongoing genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups.

Chinese authorities have been accused of facilitating forced labor by detaining around a million Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim minorities in camps since 2016. China denies wrongdoing, saying it has set up vocational training centers to combat extremism.

Next week’s ceremony in Olympia, the site of the ancient Games, will be held without spectators and with a limited media presence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The handover of the flame to Beijing 2022 organizers will take place in Athens a day later, at an event that will also be held without spectators.

Hundreds of Greek police officers are expected to lock down the sleepy town in western Peloponnese for the weekend in a bid to ensure there are no disruptions to the ceremony.

For police, the lack of crowds will make it easier to safeguard the events. Authorities are desperate to avoid a repeat of the protests during the torch-lighting ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, when Tibetan activists sneaked into the ancient site in Olympia and lit their own torch before the official ceremony, upsetting Chinese organizers.

Activists also breached tight security and interrupted the Beijing Games torch-lighting ceremony itself, unfurling a banner condemning China’s human rights record in a globally televised event.

They then disrupted the start of the torch relay in Olympia, marking the beginning of months of international protests.

“There is heightened mobility of the Greek police regarding the Beijing torch lighting, especially compared to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics,” a Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

“The scenario of potential disruption is obviously being seriously considered by police.”

Human rights groups, without revealing details, have said they will be present in Greece during the ceremonies to highlight China’s human rights record and to again call on the IOC to stop the Games.

The IOC is also facing criticism for awarding two Olympics to China in a span of 14 years, despite what rights groups say are no improvements in the human rights situation since the 2008 Games.

IOC Vice President John Coates defended the Olympic body’s stance on Wednesday.

“The IOC’s remit is to ensure that there is no human rights abuses in respect of the conduct of the Games within the National Olympic Committees or within the Olympic movement,” he said.

“We have no ability to go into a country and tell them what to do. All we can do is to award the Olympics to a country, under conditions set out in a host contract … and then ensure they are followed.”

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