Before Beijing 2022 top Olympians focused on medals not pandemic, politics

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By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO (Reuters) – Two of the world’s top winter athletes, Italian skier Sofia Goggia and Australian snowboarder Scotty James, said they were focusing on winning medals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, not the new coronavirus pandemic or potential calls for a boycott, as Beijing on Thursday marked one year until the Games start.

As well as attempting to hold an Olympics during what is likely to still be a global pandemic next February, Beijing and the International Olympic Committee are under pressure from critics of China’s human rights record.

A coalition of 180 rights groups said in an open letter to various governments on Wednesday that a boycott of the Beijing Games would “ensure they are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent” [L8N2KA1AW].

The United States have also said that China has committed “crimes against humanity and genocide” in their treatment of the Uighur ethnic group, although President Joe Biden’s administration has signalled that it has no plans to bar U.S. athletes from taking part in Beijing 2022. [L1N2K9380].

Italian alpine skier Goggia, speaking to Reuters from the German ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen before suffering the knee injury that ruled her out of this month’s world championships, said she does not discuss politics with other skiers.

“We haven’t discussed anything like that,” said Goggia, who won gold in the women’s downhill at the Pyeongchang 2018 Games.

“We haven’t been talking about anything of vaccines… neither the situation with China and the USA. Usually, we don’t talk much about politics.”

The 28-year-old, who hails from Bergamo, which was the early epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, said she hoped lessons would be learned from the Summer Games scheduled to be held in Tokyo from July 23-Aug. 8 this year.

“The summer sports have to be in Tokyo, so this is going to be a perfect test,” said Goggia.

“I am not worried about anything. Also, the vaccine is coming for the COVID, so I think in one year this situation – I am not saying in one year that it is going to be resolved 100% – but for sure it is going to be really under control. Hopefully.”

Goggia will miss her home world championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo after damaging her knee in Germany this week but she is expected to recover in time to defend her title in Beijing.

WELL MANAGED

Another Pyeongchang medallist, Australian James, said he also preferred to focus on what he can control, which is competing, and not outside forces.

“I think within a year from now, coming into China, it will be really well managed,” said James, who claimed bronze in the snowboard halfpipe three years ago.

“Of course, the Olympics is a huge corporation so I am sure, from experience, they don’t miss a beat on anything when it comes to safety and security.”

James, fresh from a superpipe silver medal in the X Games this week, said his training for Beijing was affected by being stuck in Australia, without a halfpipe to practice on, for six months because of coronavirus restrictions.

“I went back to Australia (in late 2019), obviously completely unaware of what was about to happen,” he said.

“It was quite frustrating for sure. I wasn’t doing much snowboarding, if at all. There are no halfpipes in Australia so that was very hard for me to manage.”

James is working with sponsors Red Bull to build a halfpipe in Australia so he will be raring to go by February.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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