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Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon speak out against China

The two out medalists join a chorus of athletes who are criticizing the IOC for choosing Beijing as a host city.

The Human Rights Campaign 2018 Los Angeles Gala Dinner - Show
Kenworthy and Rippon stole America’s hearts with their extraordinary performances at the 2018 Games.

The Chinese government is overseeing a genocide of Muslim minorities, suppresses its people’s freedom of speech and expression and runs a chilling surveillance state.

Let the Games begin!

Out Olympic icons Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon are the latest athletes to speak out against China’s raft of human rights abuses and the IOC’s decision to award the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing. Both medalists say the IOC must exercise more prudence when it comes to choosing host cities.

“I think the IOC should take a stance against a lot of these atrocities and stand up for important issues, and by not granting those countries the right to host the Games they could create positive change in those places - maybe not even letting them compete,” Kenworthy told the BBC.

The IOC awarded the 2022 Games to Beijing seven years ago, with the Chinese capital beating out the other finalist, Almaty, Kazakhstan, by a 44-40 vote. Beijing, which also hosted the 2008 Summer Games, is the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Games.

Rippon, who’s coaching American figure skater Mariah Bell in Beijing, says the IOC is sending an unsavory message.

“It makes me think of being rewarded for bad behavior,” he said, via Reuters. “Always the hope is that (the Olympics) helps better the hosting nation as well, but I do agree that in light of all of the human rights violations in China, it does make you question why were they still allowed to host these Games?”

The climate for LGBTQ people in China is becoming increasingly hostile, with the government exercising more control over media platforms and stamping out anything it doesn’t consider to be in line with “traditional” values. Last fall, the Chinese government banned effeminate men on TV.

Shanghai Pride, China’s only annual celebration of LGBTQ people, was shut down in 2020.

More recently, Grindr, the popular gay dating and hookup app, removed itself from multiple app stores in the country. Robert Burton-Bradley, who’s written about China’s crackdown on the LGBTQ community for the South China Morning Post, says Grindr’s disappearance reflects the current hostile environment.

“Although homosexuality is decriminalized in China, it’s still frowned upon and considered abnormal by the authorities who are increasingly applying traditional moral values in their approach to people’s behavior,” he told Outsports. “The move to remove Grindr is likely tied to moves to restrict any behavior the authorities perceive as inappropriate, and this very much includes homosexuality.”

Outsports has been tracking out Olympians since 2000 and there has never been one from China that we know of. Soccer player Lǐ Yǐng came out as lesbian in June, only to eventually delete her post following a rash of incendiary comments.

Not coincidently, the star striker was excluded from the Tokyo Games.

Kenworthy says standing against China on the international stage may be the only way to induce change.

“I know the Olympics are so important to China and they are always so high up in the medal count, that I feel like by actually taking a stance against them in a real tangible way you could probably make some positive change,” he said.

Dew Tour Copper Mountain 2020 - Day 4
Kenworthy, who joined Team GB in 2019, is participating in his final Olympics.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There are at least 35 out LGBTQ athletes competing in Beijing, a Winter Olympics record. Kenworthy will represent Great Britain in the freeski halfpipe, a discipline of freestyle skiing. He almost didn’t make it to Beijing due to head issues and a Covid infection.

China’s draconian zero-Covid policy has already caused distress for at least one out athlete. Belgian skeleton slider Kim Meylemans was put into Covid isolation for 24 hours, despite producing three straight negative tests.

She was only allowed back into the Olympic Village after posting a heart-wrenching video on Instagram.

“We are not even sure I will ever be allowed into the village,” Meylemans said, tears flowing. “This is very hard for me. I ask you all to give me some time to consider my next steps because I am not sure I can handle 14 more days and the Olympic competition while being in this isolation.”

Rippon, the U.S.’s first out Olympian to win a medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games says he doesn’t think there’s a single athlete who feels good about the arrangement.

“Every athlete thinks that what is happening isn’t right,” he said.