Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala intends to visit Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images

Milan's Mayor Giuseppe Sala has confirmed that he will travel to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics to take part in the official handover for the next edition of the Games.

The Italian city will jointly host the multi-sport event in 2026 alongside Cortina d'Ampezzo.

"I will have to go to Beijing, in February or March, for the passage of the flag: it is an important moment because it marks the official passing of the baton at a global level and therefore it will mean that we will already be in the Olympic spirit," Sala said, as reported by Il Giorno.

The Olympic flag is traditionally handed over to the next host at the Closing Ceremony, with leaders from both cities joined by the International Olympic Committee President for this moment.

Sala was re-elected as Mayor of Milan for a second term in October.

His comments come as several Western nations have announced diplomatic boycotts of Beijing 2022 over China's record on human rights, but Italy is not among them.

Fellow Group of 7 members Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States have all said that elected politicians will not attend the Games.

Japan's Government is considering such a move as well, although France has confirmed that Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu will travel to Beijing.

The European Union is to discuss a potential diplomatic boycott today, but any consensus agreement is thought to be unlikely.

China's human rights record has been scrutinised in the build-up to Beijing 2022, leading to a diplomatic boycott from several Western countries ©Getty Images
China's human rights record has been scrutinised in the build-up to Beijing 2022, leading to a diplomatic boycott from several Western countries ©Getty Images

Italy appears to be enjoying considerably better relations with China than many of its G7 counterparts.

Earlier this year, China's President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi held discussions on supporting preparations for the next two editions of the Winter Olympics and strengthening cooperation in areas such as winter sports.

China has been criticised for its record on human rights, with its treatment of minorities including Uyghur Muslins in Xinjiang - as well as its actions in Tibet and Hong Kong - coming under scrutiny.

The latest concern surrounds the welfare of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who accused former senior vice-premier and high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her 10 years ago.

In Xinjiang, China has faced accusations of using forced Uyghur labour, operating a mass surveillance programme, detaining thousands in internment camps, carrying out forced sterilisations and intentionally destroying Uyghur heritage in the Xinjiang region.

Critics say this amounts to a genocide.

Beijing claims the camps are training centres designed to stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism, and denies the charges laid against it.

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled for February 4 to 20, and the Winter Paralympics from March 4 to 13.