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The Margin: NBC’s Mike Tirico tackles ‘sportswashing’ and China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims

The 2022 Winter Olympics Games are officially underway as around 2,900 athletes gather in Beijing to compete on the world’s biggest stage. And NBC’s Mike Tirico began his Thursday night broadcast by highlighting the tense geopolitical atmosphere surrounding the Games, including the COVID-19 pandemic and accusations of human-rights violations by the host country.

(Here’s how to watch the Olympics, if you’re interested.)

“Everything and everyone attached to these Games is facing questions,” Tirico said from the Comcast-owned CMCSA network’s studio at the International Broadcast Center in the Chinese capital city. “The United States government is not here, a diplomatic boycott announced this fall joined by Canada, Great Britain and Australia citing China’s human-rights record and the U.S. government’s declaration that the Chinese Communist Party is guilty of committing genocide on the Uyghur Muslim population in the western Xinjiang region.”

He noted that this is a charge that China denies.

This was not the only mention of human-rights violations aired by NBC, which is broadcasting the Games in the U.S. under a contract that extends to 2032. Tirico presented an in-depth segment discussing China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority in which the word genocide again was used later in Thursday night’s broadcast.

“The U.S. estimates more the 1 million members of the Uyghurs and other ethnic minority groups have been detained, abused and subjected to forced labor at internment camps,” he said.

The United States government has declared the actions by China against the Uyghurs and other minority groups as genocide. But U.S. athletes will still compete in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said, “The athletes on Team USA have our full support. We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home.”

Context: Beijing Olympics begin amid lockdown and boycotts

And following the prime-time broadcast, Tirico hosted a pretaped interview in which he discussed “sportswashing,” a word Amnesty International has popularized to describe how sports can be used by oppressive governments to legitimize themselves while pulling attention away from human-rights abuses. Amnesty has explicitly warned that the “international community must not be complicit in [a] sportswashing exercise” at the Beijing Games.

“The Games should not be used as a distraction from China’s appalling human-rights record,” the organization said last month. “On the contrary, they should be an opportunity to press China to address these issues.”

So it was noteworthy during Friday’s opening ceremony that one of the two Chinese athletes granted the honor of delivering the Olympic flame and lighting the cauldron was Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a member of the Uyghur minority.

Beijing is the first city to host both the Summer Olympics (in 2008) and the Winter Olympics.

The 2022 Games sponsor list include publicly traded multinational companies including Airbnb ABNB, +1.96%,  Alibaba Group BABA, -6.23%,  Coca-Cola KO, +0.68%,  Toyota TM, +0.09%  and Visa V, -0.18%.

Read on: Russia and China leaders push back against U.S. in joint statement ahead of Olympics kickoff

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