The Winter Olympics in Beijing has been a PR disaster for many reasons, and the gloom has deepened after Team GB’s athletes were warned of potential spying by Chinese authorities.
A matter of months after the UK, the USA and Australia announced a diplomatic boycott of the event, the stars of ice and snow have been told to leave their mobile phones at home for fears that officials could bug them with spyware in a plot straight out of a Netflix thriller.
While stopping short of an outright ban, the British Olympic Association (BOA) has recommended that their representatives buy a new handset for the event, and has even offered them temporary devices to use. That way, they can contact friends and family, update their social media and arrange hook-ups on Tinder – as Olympians seem to enjoy doing.
The BOA is concerned that their athletes, with a sizable squad of around 60 expected to compete, will be targeted by the Chinese government following the diplomatic boycott, with fears that private data could be compromised or future movements tracked.
A spokesperson for the organisation said:
“We’ve given athletes and staff practical advice so that they can make their own choice as to whether they take their personal devices to the Games, or not.
“Where they do not want to take their own equipment, we have provisioned temporary devices for them to use.”
The equivalent of the BOA in the Netherlands, a partnership of the Dutch Olympic Committee and the Dutch Sports Federation, has ordered their athletes not to take their smartphones and tablets to China – such is the level of fear about potential cyber surveillance. They will give their representatives phones and laptops, and has confirmed that they will be destroyed once returned to Europe.
Their spokesperson, Geert Slot, confirmed that China was considered a ‘specific case’ for such treatment, revealing:
“The importance of cybersecurity of course has grown over the years. But China has completely closed off its internet, which makes it a specific case.”
The Great Firewall of China
Ordinarily, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would implement a ‘closed loop’ systems for the duration of the games, meaning that athletes can use their devices without any external security fears.
But in China, the heavily-regulated internet – known as the Great Firewall of China –blocks a number of websites that are widely used in the Western world, such as Twitter, Facebook and even Google, and also has specific rules on the types of spyware and anti-virus software that can be used.
It’s just another reason why protestors are furious with the IOC for allowing the Games to be hosted in such a controversial nation, with a number of human rights abuses also identified.
The Committee has reiterated their belief that they should remain ‘politically neutral’, and pointed to the success of the 2018 Winter Olympics in the South Korean province of Pyeongchang – a relative stone’s throw from the dictatorship of North Korea.
“It became even more important to promote a solution grounded in our principles of political neutrality, dialogue and diplomacy,” said IOC chief Thomas Bach.
We’ll find out on February 4 whether such a stance is wise or not….