ATHENS: Greece on Tuesday handed over the Olympic flame to organisers of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, a day after the lighting ceremony was disrupted by activists calling for the event to be postponed.
Hellenic Olympic Committee chief Spyros Kapralos gave the Olympic torch to the vice-president of Beijing 2022 and vice-president of the Chinese Olympic Committee Yu Zaiqing at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, where the ancient Games were revived in 1896.
“The Olympic flame will travel to the Great Wall and across other parts of China, bringing with it the light of peace and friendship,” Yu said.
He said China vowed to deliver “a streamlined, safe and splendid Games”.
Around 2,900 athletes, representing approximately 85 National Olympic Committees, will compete in the Winter Games between 4 and 20 February 2022.
Actresses dressed as ancient Greek priestesses had earlier lit a cauldron with the Olympic flame after China’s Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010 freestyle ski silver medallist Li Nina ran a lap with the torch in the second-century AD stadium.
The ceremony was held without spectators, with mainly officials and media in attendance.
“The pandemic may have prevented us from holding the Olympic flame ceremony in the presence of people, but I am sure that the successful and safe organisation of the Games will be another victory of humanity against the coronavirus,” Kapralos said.
“Beijing is making history by becoming the first city to host both Summer and Winter Olympic Games. And we are very happy, because by giving you the flame, we also become part of this history,” he added.
The International Olympic Committee has said the flame will go on display to the public in Beijing before setting off on an exhibition tour.
Earlier Tuesday, activists against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics urged the IOC to postpone the event, arguing that China was perpetrating “genocide” against Uyghurs and Tibetans.
“This is sports-washing. There are no legitimate reasons to host the Games during a genocide,” Zumretay Arkin, advocacy manager of the World Uyghur Congress, told a news conference in the Greek capital.
During the lighting ceremony in Olympia on Monday, the activists unfurled a Tibetan flag and a banner that said: “no genocide” at the Games. A similar protest was held at the Acropolis in Athens on Sunday.
Human rights campaigners and exiles say the Chinese central government practises religious repression, torture, forced sterilisation and cultural erosion through forced re-education.
Campaigners believe that at least one million Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim minorities are incarcerated in camps in Xinjiang.
After initially denying the existence of the Xinjiang camps, China later defended them as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.
The IOC is legitimising “one of the worst violations of human rights in the entire 21st century” and defiling the spirit of the Games, Pema Doma, campaigns director for Students for a Free Tibet, told the news conference in Athens.
“These Games cannot go ahead as planned, they must be postponed,” she said.
There have also been calls for athletes and governments to boycott the Games.
IOC chairman Thomas Bach has batted off talk of a potential boycott, claiming the International Olympic Committee’s political neutrality and saying it was up to governments to live up to their responsibilities.
A victim of the 1980 Moscow Games boycott, the former fencer has said such moves only punish athletes, and insists the IOC was addressing the rights issue “within our remit”.