Team GB athletes warned not to take phones to Beijing Winter Olympics due to Government spying threat

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Chinese workers spray paint near the Bing Dwen Dwen, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Mascot and Shuey Rhon Rhon, the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games Mascot, in Beijing, China, 11 January 2022 - Shutterstock
Chinese workers spray paint near the Bing Dwen Dwen, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Mascot and Shuey Rhon Rhon, the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games Mascot, in Beijing, China, 11 January 2022 - Shutterstock

Great Britain’s Winter Olympics team have been warned against taking their mobile phones and other personal devices to the Beijing Games amid fears they could be spied upon by the Chinese state.

Telegraph Sport can reveal the British Olympic Association (BOA) has taken what is thought to be the unprecedented step for an Olympics of offering athletes alternative phones to take with them.

It can also be disclosed competitors have been asked to consider leaving their personal devices at home.

The BOA is not the only national Olympic committee to warn its athletes against taking their phones to the Games, with its Dutch counterpart having also done so and more expected to follow suit.

British athletes will begin flying out to Beijing in a fortnight ahead of the February 4-20 Olympics, with the first BOA staff doing so next week.

The BOA has used in-country devices for multiple previous Games but staff have taken personal equipment with them as well, something they will not do in Beijing.

Its cyber-security policy for this year’s Olympics was devised following advice from multiple sources, including its own security and IT team, as well as outside agencies.

A BOA spokesperson said: “We’ve given athletes and staff practical advice so that they can make their own choice as to whether they take their personal devices to the Games, or not. Where they do not want to take their own equipment, we have provisioned temporary devices for them to use.”

Team GB members should be able to post to their usual social media channels during the Games, with Chinese authorities opening a crack in the so-called Great Firewall of China, which usually blocks access to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, for athletes and accredited foreign media travelling to Beijing.

But taking alternative phones would help prevent those authorities accessing data held on an athletes’ personal devices or installing software to track their future activity.

Concern over covert installation of apps

There have been reports in recent years of apps that extract private information being installed on the phones of tourists travelling to the country.

The Government also announced in 2020 a total ban on the purchase of new Huawei 5G equipment, which it said would be removed from all UK 5G networks by the end of 2027.

That was after the United States issued its own ban, warning such equipment could be used by China for spying.

Athletes travelling to Beijing will also be acutely aware of the role technology has played in the scandal surrounding Chinese tennis player and former Olympian Peng Shuai, including the release of an email purporting to be from her retracting accusations she had previously made against the country’s former vice-premier.

Last month, Boris Johnson announced the UK would join a diplomatic boycott of this year’s Games over China’s record on human rights.

As at previous Olympics, Team GB athletes wanting to raise awareness of political issues during the event have been advised to discuss this with the BOA before doing so.

Last year’s Summer Games saw the women’s football team take the knee after doing just that.

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