The Netherlands, Britain and Canada are taking similar precautions. An AOC spokesperson said Australian athletes would not be offered “burner” phones – a temporary phone fitted with a prepaid SIM card – or temporary laptops, but stressed that the sponsor of IOC longtime Samsung provided each athlete with a phone for the duration of the Games.
With 42 of Australia’s 44 Olympians named on Sunday, final preparations are underway ahead of the Games opening on February 4.
Many athletes will depart for Beijing in the coming days from various detention camps around the world, satisfying the rigorous regime of COVID-19 testing prior to departure from China and uploading their results, along with proof of double status. vaccination, in a central database managed by Chinese medical authorities.
But alongside anticipation for the start of the world’s premier winter sports event, anxiety is also mounting around potential Chinese government surveillance and general security.
Lipshut said Australian authorities are monitoring the situation closely.
“We are following the best possible advice and also watching how things change,” he said. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past 18 months, it’s that things change very quickly. So what I’m sure of is that if things change, we’ll be able to react very quickly.
The Beijing organizing committee dismissed the digital surveillance claims as “totally unnecessary” fears based on “zero evidence”.
Three-time Olympians Laura Peel and Danielle Scott, two of Australia’s best medal chances, are seasoned travelers to China and insist they are not worried about returning.
“I can’t say I had any issues,” Scott said. “If you opt for a VPN, you can access the Internet and feel protected just like you would at home. But I think it’s also pretty cool to see what their culture is like and what their internet is like as well.
“I don’t think I’ll be overly cautious, it’s just maybe not doing anything financial or risky that you wouldn’t do anywhere in the world.”
The AOC does not discuss its computer protocols beyond Lipshut’s assurances that its network would be “as secure as possible”.
Team officials have shared recommendations with athletes on their use of devices and communications in China and Lipshut said once teams are on the field it will be one of the safest places.
“The IOC has done a lot of work…the old adage says if you want to be in the safest place in the world, you have to be an Olympic Games athlete. I really think there will be less risk for the moment.
The Beijing organizing committee has drawn criticism in Australia with recent comments warning of ‘punishment’ if behavior or speech is deemed to cross the line.
“Any expression in line with the Olympic spirit, I’m sure, will be protected,” said Yang Shu, deputy general manager for international relations of the BOC.
“Any behavior or speech contrary to the Olympic spirit, especially Chinese laws and regulations, is also subject to certain penalties.”
Yang said “the politicization of sport is one of the things the Olympic Charter opposes” and that “dedicated departments” would establish whether protests violate Chinese laws or Olympic regulations.
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