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- Figure skater
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the months and weeks leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, U.S. athletes have been repeatedly asked about human rights abuses in China and, for the most part, tiptoed around them.
Pairs skater Timothy LeDuc did not do that Sunday.
Hours after they were named to Team USA, LeDuc fielded a question about human rights abuses in China, whether athletes have a responsibility to use their platform to speak about them and whether they plan to do so. They called it "a really hard question to answer."
"There's no simple answer to this question," said LeDuc, who will become the first openly non-binary athlete to compete at an Olympic Winter Games.
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"What I can say is we absolutely acknowledge the horrifying things that we've seen happening to the Uyghurs. I read somewhere the other day that it's the largest number of people held in internment and labor camps since World War II. I mean, these are horrifying human rights abuses that we're seeing happening. And it can feel very powerless when you read those things, because you think, 'What can I do?'"
LeDuc, whose pronouns are they/them, is set to make their first Olympic appearance alongside partner Ashley Cain-Gribble after they finished first at this week's U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who withdrew from competition after Frazier tested positive for COVID-19, will join them in Beijing.
The U.S. is one of several nations that have planned to diplomatically boycott the Games due to China's human rights abuses, including its treatment of Uyghurs, which the U.S. government has deemed a genocide.
After acknowledging those abuses Sunday, LeDuc said they are also striving to speak out about – and defend – human rights in the United States, as well.
"I think we're all probably people that believe human rights are for everyone. We all should have access to the same rights," LeDuc said. "So I see human rights being violated here, in my country. I see trans people fighting for human rights. I believe that healthcare is a human right, and I see access to healthcare being denied. I believe abortion is healthcare, and access to abortion is a human right. And I see those rights under attack, in this country, and that's something we have control over here.
"So often, state and local governments are the ones who are restricting those rights, and we all have a responsibility and the ability to vote in those elections, and elect people who are going to protect those human rights. So that's kind of how I think of it. I feel powerless sometimes, seeing the situation in China. I can use my voice here, yes. But what I can do here to defend human rights is be sure that I am vigilant and vote for the people in my local communities and state and local elections to defend human rights here as well."
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Timothy LeDuc, US pairs skater, calls out human rights abuses in China