Olympics: Omicron, boycotts and new transgender athlete guidelines

China 2022

BEIJING, China (KXAN) — China says it’s still on track to host the Olympics in Beijing as scheduled in February, but organizers say the omicron COVID-19 variant is a concern.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a briefing last week the new variant would “certainly bring some challenges in terms of prevention and control,” according to the Associated Press.

Dr. Stephen Thomas, an infectious disease specialist at the Upstate University Hospital in New York, said early evidence suggests vaccinated people infected by the omicron variant experience only mild symptoms. However, more study is needed to determine how well the currently available vaccines fend off the worst effects of the variant.

“The recommendation remains that if you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated,” Dr. Thomas said. “If you’re eligible for a third dose or a booster, you should get one.”

U.S. diplomatic boycott

In addition to considering COVID-19 safety as it relates to the games, some countries are considering what level they want to participate.

The United States will stage a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing to protest Chinese human rights abuses, the White House confirmed Monday. Chinese officials have now vowed to meet this move with “firm countermeasures.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said U.S. athletes will continue to compete and will “have our full support,” but added “we will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games.”

Advocacy groups have been protesting the Beijing Games, in particular, over China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims who live in the northwest region of Xinjiang, as well as its response to Hong Kong protesters and policies related to Tibet and Taiwan.

A diplomatic boycott wouldn’t prevent athletes from competing, but it would mean high-level delegations from each country may not participate. For example, last year First Lady Jill Biden led a group of American leaders to the Tokyo Olympics last year, attending ceremonies and some events.

Transgender, intersex athlete guidelines

Sports governing bodies throughout the world also have new guidelines to consider when it comes to allowing transgender and intersex athletes to compete.

The International Olympic Committee recently released a framework that provides advice for writing rules, and specifically says transgender and intersex athletes should no longer have a presumed advantage.

“No athlete should be precluded from competing or excluded from competition on the exclusive ground of an unverified, alleged or perceived unfair competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status,” the IOC framework states.

Governing bodies aren’t required to follow these guidelines, but the IOC’s document specifies excluding these athletes from competition “should be based on robust and peer reviewed research. It does not provide exact examples about what kind of studies that would include.

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