China Violating Hockey Player’s ‘Human Rights,’ Says Coach

BEIJING, Feb 6 (Reuters) – The coach of the Finland men’s ice hockey team accused China of not respecting a player’s human rights on Sunday as complaints about COVID-19 isolation protocols piled up at the Winter Games.

Finnish head coach Jukka Jalonen said Marko Anttila, a ninth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2004 NHL draft, was “not getting good food” and was under tremendous mental stress.

“We know that he’s fully healthy and ready to go and that’s why we think that China, for some reason, they won’t respect his human rights and that’s not a great situation,” head coach Jalonen said on a Zoom call with media.

Anttila was no longer infectious but continued to be kept in COVID-19 isolation after testing positive 18 days ago, according to the team doctor.

More than 350 Games participants, including dozens of athletes, have tested positive on arrival in the Chinese capital since Jan. 23. They can leave special quarantine hotels only once they are free of symptoms and test negative in two PCR tests 24 hours apart.

Several Games participants have complained about the isolation conditions, as well as the confusing procedures around being allowed to leave. Organizers said on Sunday that they were trying to address complaints.

“We are in a process of addressing these problems,” said Zhao Weidong, Beijing Games spokesperson, adding that they would now allow an athlete to order in food from the village.

The International Ice Hockey Federation would meet the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Sunday to discuss Anttila and other athlete cases, Jalonen said. Finland open group play on Thursday when they face off against Slovakia.

“Hopefully, something positive we will find out,” the coach said.

MORE POSITIVES

A pair of Australian curlers earned a reprieve later on Sunday after being told earlier that one of them had returned a series of positive tests and would be placed in isolation.

Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt were able to compete in the curling mixed doubles tournament after they were cleared by a medical expert panel, the Australia team said.

On Saturday, Germany’s team chief Dirk Schimmelpfennig called conditions for triple Olympic gold medallist Eric Frenzel and two other German athletes “unacceptable”.

He demanded a complete overhaul including bigger and cleaner rooms, a working internet connection, sports equipment and better food.

Schimmelpfennig said on Sunday that organizers had acted after being contacted by the team, the ski federation, and the IOC.

“We have succeeded since yesterday in achieving a marked improvement in conditions for the athletes,” he told reporters.

“Now the athletes have a satisfying framework of conditions. They have bigger rooms now, working Wifi, an exercise bike in the room so we have appropriate and satisfying conditions in a very difficult situation for the athletes,” he said.

HORROR STORY

Polish short track speed skater Natalia Maliszewska posted on Twitter that her Beijing Olympics had turned into a ‘horror’ story after she tested positive on Jan 30. She claimed she had received several positive and negative tests.

Finally, on the day of the start (on Saturday) at 3:00 am, people pull me out of solitary… That night was a horror.

“I slept with my clothes on because I was afraid that someone would take me to solitary in a moment again. I only looked a little through the curtains. With one eye, because I was afraid someone would see me.”

Hours later, Maliszewska said she packed for the ice rink to take part in the 500 meters heats.

“And suddenly the news that they have made a mistake! That they shouldn’t let me out of solitary confinement! That I am a threat after all! That I can’t compete. I have to get back to the village asap.”

On Sunday night, Maliszewska posted a photo of herself rinkside, declaring “I’m back!”

Swedish journalist Philip Gadd, who was whisked off to isolation in an ambulance when he arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, described his confusion and fear in a diary he is writing for his newspaper.

“It was a really terrifying experience and it just felt like… it didn’t feel real. It felt like as if I was in a movie, a sci-fi movie or something,” he told Reuters in a Zoom interview from his quarantine hotel.

Reporting from Reuters.