IT IS BARELY 60 days until the ‘simple, safe and splendid’ Winter Olympic Games that President Xi Jinping promised eight months ago are due to open in Beijing under the totally apolitical slogan of ‘Together for a Shared Future’.
Despite the advent of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, neatly picking up on the alliteration, said today that he expected the Winter Olympics would be held ‘smoothly and on schedule’.
The games were always going to be staged in a bubble, with China’s borders effectively closed to international visitors as part of Covid-19 countermeasures. The restrictions were going to be eased only for athletes and team officials to participate in the games. From January 23, they must enter what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) calls ‘a closed-loop management system’ that confines them to Games-related venues and accommodation and only allows movement on a Games-dedicated transport system.
No foreign spectators were ever going to be allowed, only Chinese residents. The new variant may cause a reassessment of that. Yet, the country’s strict containment protocols will more likely permit it to fill the stands with vaccinated and patriotically cheering fans. They will provide the backdrop of spectators and atmosphere for the world’s TV cameras, through which most of the world watches Winter Olympics — and off whose broadcast rights revenues the IOC feasts royally.
Nor with domestic spectators only will there be any danger of crowd protests or #WhereIsPengShuai signs being waved for the cameras to linger on.
Beijing is managing to slowly let the air out of that particular balloon, even if the United States and other Western nations are still weighing a diplomatic boycott of the Games as a signal of its concern about human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
A diplomatic boycott would mean the United States and other participating nations would not send delegations of government officials to attend the games. That will be an empty gesture if Omicron means no government delegations at all.
Update: The Women’s Tennis Association announced on December 1 that it was suspending tournaments in mainland China and Hong Kong in 2022 because of the Peng Shuai case.