Back to the future: Olympics returning to China, not a choice location – Chicago Tribune
China, which has 1.35 billion people, made approximately that many promises about the improved human rights in the country that would result from Beijing’s hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics.
After seven years of breaking those promises and creating an atmosphere more repressive than what existed prior to 2008, the Olympics are going back to Beijing.
This time, it will be the 2022 Winter Games, making Beijing the first city to be host of both summer and winter Olympics.
Left with a choice between bad and bad on the human rights front, with two authoritarian countries as the only bidders, the International Olympic Committee made the safe pick of Beijing over Almaty, Kazakhstan, in a surprisingly close 44-40 vote Friday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“They chose certainty in Beijing,” IOC vice-president Craig Reedie of Britain told the Associated Press. “But I don’t think anybody would have believed that the result would have been that close.”
The Beijing Winter Games will become the third straight in northeast Asia, following the Pyeongchang, South Korea Winter Games in 2018 and the Tokyo Summer Games in 2020.
When four Western European cities – Oslo, Stockholm, Munich and Krakow – dropped out of the 2022 competition over lack of public support amidst the spiraling cost of staging the Olympics, the IOC wound up with just two finalists and pressure to reform the entire process of bidding for and putting on the Games.
Those reforms, enacted last December and known as Agenda 2020, are to have their first major impact on the bidding and organization of the 2024 Summer Games.
For now, though, the IOC could only give the 2022 Winter Games to one of two places where opposition concerns would be brushed aside and no cost likely would be spared to put on the Olympics. The resounding success of the 2008 Summer Games as a commercial and sporting enterprise undoubtedly factored into China’s win.
There is no mystery why the IOC loves to give the Olympics to what might be euphemistically be described as quasi-dictatorships. Feisty democracies like Norway, which would have been the ideal 2022 host, no longer are ready to kowtow to IOC demands, as the country’s politicians made clear by pulling support from the Oslo bid 3 ½ months after it was named one of the three finalists in June 2014.
“The Olympic motto of ‘higher, faster, and stronger’ is a perfect description of the Chinese government’s assault on civil society: more peaceful activists detained in record time, subject to far harsher treatment,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “In choosing China to host another Games, the IOC has tripped on a major human rights hurdle.”
This will be a second straight Winter Games in a place, like 2018 host South Korea, with minimal tradition and success in most winter sports. Such choices serve commercial interests seeking new sporting goods markets, especially China’s.
In 10 Winter Olympic appearances, the first in 1980, China has entered athletes in 11 of the 15 sports on the current program. The Chinese have won 52 medals from five of those sports, with 30 in short track speed skating, eight in freestyle skiing (all aerials) and seven in both figure skating and long track speedskating.
China spent an estimated $40 billion on the 2008 Olympics, most on infrastructure improvements. That looked like pocket change compared to the reported $50 billion Russia spent on the 2014 Winter Games, also mainly on infrastructure, with substantial amounts of that money apparently lining the pockets of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pals.
China’s 2022 Olympic plans call for using snow as artificial as the stuff that has been dumped in and around the 2008 Olympic Stadium, where opening and closing ceremonies would be held.
The mountains where Alpine events are to be held, 50 miles from Beijing, get so little precipitation (an average 15 inches per year), that the organizers will be forced to use nearly all man-made snow.
That has triggered concerns about diverting badly needed water from agricultural and other needs.
And then there is Beijing’s notorious air pollution, which is worse in winter and significantly worse overall than it was in 2008 despite claims of improvement that the 2022 bid committee reiterated. This time, all the sports venues in Beijing would be indoors, which should ease worries about respiratory issues for athletes.
The 2022 Winter Olympics will sprawl across northern China, with Nordic events nearly 140 miles from Beijing. Even by the usual standards of distances at the Winter Games to bring mountains into play, that is a long way.
Beijing has projected a relatively low operating budget of $1.5 million. Several venues used at the 2008 Summer Games will be repurposed for winter sports. The only major indoor facility it must build is a long track speedskating oval.
Building a better image on human rights and the environment will not be as easy.
“Over the next seven years, the IOC has enormous work to do in China to win the credibility on human rights that will ensure a successful Olympics,” HRW’s Richardson said.
Given what happened in 2008, that likely is wishful thinking. Expect the IOC once again to hide behind the shibboleth that it has no role in the internal politics of Olympic hosts.
Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune
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