Team GB chiefs have set their sights on their greatest ever Winter Olympics medal haul in Beijing next month – and reiterated their support for British athletes who want to protest against human rights abuses in China.
With just over three weeks to go before the Games begin, the British Olympic Association and UK Sport are targeting between three and seven medals, a tally that could take the team past the record of five set in Sochi in 2014 and equalled in Pyeongchang in 2018.
While conceding the Olympics in China will be “extraordinarily challenging”, due to a range of factors including Covid and human rights issues, UK Sport’s chief executive, Sally Munday, said that Team GB was determined to become “an even greater force in winter sports”.
“Our intelligence tells us that British athletes have the potential to win between three and seven medals at the Olympics, and between five and nine medals at the Paralympics,” she added. “We have a young, dynamic, motivated team with real potential to excite and inspire the public.”
Around 50 athletes are expected to be selected for the Winter Olympics, with the BOA also confirming that all will be vaccinated. Those challenging for medals will include the snowboarder Charlotte Bankes, the three curling teams and the men’s two- and four-man bobsleigh.
Andy Anson, the chief executive of the BOA, confirmed that officials would support British athletes who wanted to use the Games to take a stand over human rights abuses or to raise awareness of the Peng Shuai case, although he urged them to alert officials beforehand. He said: “We’ve told the athletes all along that we’re very happy for them to express themselves but to be sensible and to ideally touch base with those if they feel that they’re doing anything at all controversial .
“We are not the ones who are going to stop our athletes expressing opinions. But equally, we are the ones who are going to give them sensible guidance about local laws and what’s expected locally so that they don’t come up against difficult situations. So it’s a fine balance.”
Anson also indicated that he expected fans to attend the Winter Olympics – something that Chinese organisers are yet to confirm even though the Games open on 4 February.
“I’m really pleased for the athletes that there will be spectators in China,” he said. “I think that will add a dimension over and above what we had in Tokyo that will make the Games exciting. I’m lucky enough, with Manchester United and as CEO of the ATP Tennis tour, to have been at live events out in China and to see the enthusiasm of the Chinese fans so that is a positive for the Games.”