By Michael Martina
BEIJING (Reuters) – The International Olympics Committee is confident China will guarantee uncensored internet when it hosts the 2022 Winter Games, a senior IOC official said on Wednesday, though China has given no details about how its pledge will work.
China keeps a tight rein on the internet. The government has warned that social media, particularly foreign services, could be a destabilizing force for Chinese society and even jeopardize security.
Popular foreign social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as well as Google Inc’s main search engine and Gmail service are all inaccessible in China without specialized software to vault what is known as the “Great Firewall”.
“It’s guaranteed in the bid,” IOC Vice President Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the late Juan Antonio Samaranch, who led the IOC from 1980 to 2001, told reporters in Beijing when asked about free internet in 2022.
“All the experience that we’ve had with Beijing is that they’ve always delivered on their word. We are confident that will be the case.”
China had committed to providing media with the same freedom to report on the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics as they enjoyed at previous Games.
But when the main press center opened, journalists complained of finding access to sites deemed sensitive to China’s communist leadership blocked. A IOC official later admitted that some IOC officials cut a deal to let China block sensitive websites.
Zhang Jiandong, a Beijing vice mayor and vice president of the Winter Olympics organizing committee, said China had already made commitments to have an open internet during the bidding process.
“During the 2022 Winter Games we will comprehensively open access to the internet for all (internet) customers, including at the competition venues, where athletes stay, and other areas.”
China’s pledge raises the prospect that Chinese spectators will be able to access otherwise blocked sites while attending the Winter Games.
However, a Beijing Olympic official said last year that Chinese “don’t like” sites like Facebook and Twitter as China has its own social media, such as Weibo and WeChat.
Beijing, along with the nearby city of Zhangjiakou, won the right to host the Games last year. The only other city bidding to host the event was Kazakhstan’s Almaty, after other prospective cities dropped out citing costs and other worries.
While Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Games to wide acclaim, its bid for the Winter Games was dogged by concerns over a number of issues, such as the city’s notorious smog, a lack of snow and China’s poor human rights record.
(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)