Portugal Colonial - Outspoken British Olympian Kenworthy 'treads lightly' in Beijing

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Outspoken British Olympian Kenworthy 'treads lightly' in Beijing
Outspoken British Olympian Kenworthy 'treads lightly' in Beijing

Outspoken British Olympian Kenworthy 'treads lightly' in Beijing

Outspoken British Olympian Gus Kenworthy said Wednesday that he is biting his tongue while in Beijing because of the "very real risks" of criticising hosts China.

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Kenworthy, a silver medallist at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, spoke out earlier this month against the decision to award the Winter Games to China because of the country's "appalling" human rights record.

He told the BBC that "by actually taking a stance against them in a real tangible way you could probably make some positive change".

But the 30-year-old freestyle skier has toned down his criticism since arriving in Beijing, telling AFP that he is "trying to just get through the Games safe and sound".

China warned ahead of the Games about athletes criticising the authorities while in the country.

"We are at the mercy of China right now," said Kenworthy, who competed for the United States at two Winter Games before switching allegiance to Britain in late 2019.

"I just feel like there are very real risks of speaking right now," he added.

Kenworthy said "no one has censored" him but he has "been encouraged to tread lightly", adding that he can "totally understand why".

But he intends to pick up where he left off when he returns home.

"I don't think I would want to be ruffling feathers in this exact moment anyway because I have to perform and I have to focus, so I'm just trying to do that and get through the Games," he said.

"I think I can have a much bigger impact speaking up after the Games if I've just had a medal than if I don't."

Speaking in Beijing earlier this month, American figure-skating coach and former Olympian Adam Rippon said he hopes the Games will bring added scrutiny on the host country.

Kenworthy said it was "important for athletes to use their platform" and he has been outspoken on various issues in the past, including climate change and LGBTQ rights.

Kenworthy came out as gay after competing at the Sochi Olympics and he said the atmosphere at that year's Games was "not welcoming" for LGBTQ people.

"We went through all sorts of media training with the US team on how to answer certain questions and they really didn't want us to speak on that," he said.

"I think that countries that participate in the Games or host the Games need to make sure that those athletes are supported and safe and that no minority group is being excluded or persecuted."

Kenworthy, who was born in England but moved to the US aged two, is now competing for Britain and said he "has had truly the best time being part of Team GB".

He will compete in the freeski halfpipe in Beijing, beginning with Thursday's qualification round.

"If I land my run I think I will do well, but it's a judged sport so there's really no saying," he said.

"Ultimately it will come down to what I do and what other people do and how well they are executed."