Vladyslav Heraskevych, who is representing Ukraine in the skeleton race at the Beijing Winter Olympics, unfurled an 8 X 10″ sign as he came off his third of four heats that read simply, in English, “No War in Ukraine.” The act marks the first overtly political statement from a competitor in a Games that has been rife with subtle (and not to subtle) political messaging.
Heraskevych’s protest was shown by NBC during Friday night’s Olympics coverage and also made it onto the strictly-controlled airwaves of China’s state broadcaster, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“No War in Ukraine”
Ukraine’s Vladyslav Heraskevych flashed a small sign to the cameras as he finished his #Beijing2022 skeleton run. https://t.co/8J3FmdmDxK
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 12, 2022
US Officials have been warning of a potentially immanent invasion of the country by neighboring Russia, with the White House warning American citizens today to leave Ukraine in the next 24-48 hours.
“It’s my stance. Like any normal people, I don’t want war,” Heraskevych said later, according to ESPN. “I want peace in my country, and I want peace in the world. It’s my position, so I fight for that. I fight for peace.
“In Ukraine, it’s really nervous now,” Heraskevych continued. “A lot of news about guns, about weapons, what’s to come in Ukraine, about some armies around Ukraine. It’s not OK, not in the 21st century. So I decided, before the Olympics, that I would show my position to the world.”
In 1975, the International Olympic Committee placed into its charter what’s become known simply as “Rule 50.” It states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
Asked after Heraskevych’s protest whether he would be censured, the IOC said in a statement, “This was a general call for peace. For the IOC, the matter is closed.”
In the run up to the Beijing Games, athletes, human rights organizations and others expressed concern about the squelching of protests in China, where free speech is not as closely guarded as it is the US, and where the country’s treatment of a protest movement in Hong Kong, independence movement in Tibet and of its Muslim minority Uyghurs have drawn sharp criticism internationally.
Of course, China has been not terribly subtle in how it has used the games to state of its own political aims. Deadline’s review of the Opening Ceremony noted its themes seemed to be “spring rebirth, propaganda and imperial heritage.”