The Olympics, overshadowed by diplomatic boycotts and concerns about Covid-19, will officially begin on Friday.

China has been keen to stress that its capital will make Olympic history, becoming the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Games, and saying the Games will be
China has been keen to stress that its capital will make Olympic history, becoming the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Games, and saying the Games will be "safe and splendid". (AFP)

The sporting action gets under way at the Beijing Winter Olympics, two days before the opening ceremony of a Games overshadowed by diplomatic boycotts and concerns about Covid-19.

The Olympics officially launch on Friday but the sports start later Wednesday with mixed-doubles curling.

Among the controversies are fears for the safety of Peng Shuai, warnings about snooping by the Chinese government and the environmental impact of an Olympics which will rely almost entirely on man-made snow.

Beginning its journey to the "Bird's Nest" stadium for the opening ceremony, a low-key torch relay got going under blue skies despite earlier warnings about pollution.

Adopting the catchphrase "Together for a shared future", China, its ruling Communist Party and the International Olympic Committee hope all the rancour will be forgotten once the Games get into full swing.

READ MORE: How one app is creating controversy ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics

Diplomatic boycott

When Washington said it would stage a diplomatic boycott because of rights concerns — with Australia, Britain and Canada among those following suit — China warned the United States would "pay the price".

The Biden administration will not send diplomatic or official representation over what it called China's "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity" against Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Beijing denies allegations.

Athletes of the boycotting countries will compete at the Games, which run until February 20, but a US rights monitor sounded the alarm this week over athletes' safety after the hosts threatened "punishment" for anti-Beijing comments.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China — a group of Washington lawmakers and White House officials — asked US Olympics authorities for an "urgent effort" to protect their stars if they speak out.

READ MORE: A brief history of Olympic boycotts

Concerns over Peng's safety

IOC president Thomas Bach says that while in Beijing he will meet Peng, a Grand Slam-winning tennis player who alleged in November that she had been sexually assaulted by a former vice-premier. Peng was not heard from for nearly three weeks, only to reappear.

In addition, some Western nations, fearing surveillance, have told their athletes to leave their personal devices at home and use temporary burner phones.

Then there is the coronavirus. Last summer's pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics were in a "bubble" to thwart the virus, but it was more relaxed than the no-nonsense system in place in Beijing.

Organisers say they expect cases in the bubble — nearly 250 have already been recorded — but their goal is to keep the spread to a minimum.

READ MORE: Beijing lights the flame, kicking off 2022 Winter Olympic Games

Source: TRTWorld and agencies