Who is Dinigeer Yilamujiang? The Uyghur athlete at the forefront of Beijing's sportwashing scandal
Beijing 2022 organisers have been accused blatant 'propaganda' after they used a Uyghur athlete to light the cauldron at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday, February 4. Uyghur cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang was one of the two Chinese competitors to ignite the flame.
Following the move, the Chinese government was widely criticized. The government was accused of committing crimes against humanity considering the way way they treat Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. As per the allegations of several human rights groups, one million Uyghurs are being abused in ‘re-education’ camps.
"It was propaganda. They want to give their best image to the world and discredit survivors and organisations like ours who want to tell the world about the genocide that is happening," Rahima Mahmut of the World Uyghur Congress told the Daily Mail. "They want people to believe them, to sportwash what they are doing. There is a Chinese idiom that translates as “no 300 taels of silver are buried here”. It is when someone protests too much that they are innocent. That is what I thought when I heard about the opening ceremony and the torch."
Bennett Freeman, of the Coalition to End Forced Labour in the Uyghur Region Steering Committee, said: "It’s a brazen, cynical ploy that the world should see through and understand the truth of the crimes against humanity that the Chinese government has perpetrated."
Beijing 2022 organisers mainly orchestrated the opening ceremony. However, the International Olympic Committee was also reportedly involved, a committee that was fiercely criticized for refusing to get involved in ‘political’ issues.
Who is Dinigeer Yilamujiang?
China's move to make Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a young Uyghur athlete, step into the spotlight at the opening ceremony simply put the 20-year-old cross-country skier at the forefront of the controversy over rights abuses in Xinjiang. Yilamujiang is from the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority from the far-northwestern region of Xinjiang. This is a region where China's ruling Communist Party is accused of abusing human rights.
Yilamujiang was born in Altay to mother Hatibaji Ruxian and father Ilhamjan Miraji. Her father, who taught her to ski, became a coach to 20 cross-country skiers, including Yilamujiang, in 2009 when the local government started promoting professional skiing. A number of his students reportedly entered the national cross-country skiing team.
Yilamujiang originally competed as a track and field athlete. She began learning to ski at the age of 12. In 2017, she began skiing competitively. She was trained by Norwegian coach Kristian Bjune Sveen, who traveled to Xinjiang to train her. Yilamujiang placed 2nd at the FIS China City Sprint Beijing 2019, and also 2nd at the Norwegian Norgescup at Konnerud. She won a silver medal at the FIS Beijing Cross Country Skiing Points Grand Prix in 2019.
Following the recent controversy, an IOC spokesman defended Yilamujiang's involvement, saying, "This is an athlete who is competing here. She has every right wherever she comes from to compete and she has every right whatever her background to take part in the opening ceremony. I think it was a lovely concept."