Sports

Chinese skier with Uyghur heritage who lit Olympic flame fails to speak to media after her event

Yilamujiang Dinigeer
Posted at 11:43 AM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 11:43:46-05

A Chinese cross country skier who made headlines when she was tapped to light the Olympic flame at the Opening Ceremonies last week appeared to violate IOC protocol after a weekend race by failing to appear in front of the media.

Dinigeer Yilamujiang made headlines worldwide during the Opening Ceremonies on Friday when she and downhill skier Zhao Jiawen lit the Olympic flame. Yilamujiang hails from Xinjiang and is a part of a Muslim-minority group in the region known as the Uyghurs.

The U.S. and several of its allies chose not to send its top diplomats to Beijing for the 2020 Olympics games, citing, in part, China's alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang.

In the last half-decade, China has sent thousands of Uyghurs to detention centers where they have been forced to learn Mandarin and the ruling party's political ideology. They've also reportedly been sent to work camps to labor in sweatshop factories. Some children are sent to boarding schools, where NPR reports they are subjected to "mental torment."

Yilamujiang's participation in the Opening Ceremony was heralded by Chinese state media as a show of unity. It was also a clear political signal to the world, particularly those countries participating in a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics.

She's reportedly one of six athletes from Xinjiang competing for China, and the only athlete of Uyghur heritage in the Olympics.

Typically, athletes who are competing in events scheduled for Saturday or Sunday will choose not to participate in the Opening Ceremonies so they can prepare for competition. That was not the case for Yilamujiang — according to The Wall Street Journal, her race in the women's 7.5km + 7.5km cross-country skiathlon took place just 18 hours after she lit the cauldron at the Opening Ceremonies.

During her race Saturday, Yilamujiang finished 43rd out of 65 participants, about five minutes off the pace of the winner, Therese Johaug of Norway. After finishing, the Journal and The Daily Mail report that Yilamujiang did not appear before media members. Journalists reportedly waited to talk to her for several hours outdoors in the cold before giving up.

Both The Mail and The Journal report that Yilamujiang's avoidance of the media appears to violate the rules of the IOC. Typically, athletes are required to exit competition venues through a "mixed zone," where they can choose to either speak to assembled media or decline comment.

The Journal spoke to Olympic officials who noted such rules were in place for the women's 7.5km + 7.5km cross-country skiathlon, though they declined to comment on Yilamujiang's failure to appear before assembled media. The Journal also noted that Chinese state media largely ignored Yilamujiang's performance.

Shortly before leaving office in 2021, top Trump Administration officials classified China's treatment of Uyghur people as "genocide." In December, White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted China's human rights abuses of Uyghur people as the main reason for the U.S.'s diplomatic boycott of the Olympics.

Several U.S. allies joined in the diplomatic boycott. But the U.S. adversaries are taking advantage of their absence.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping came together to denounce NATO's response to Russia's troop buildup on the border of Ukraine. Russia also reiterated its belief that Taiwan was a part of mainland China.