Let All Sorts Of Games Begin

Logo of 2022 Neijing Winter Olympic Games

THE WINTER OLYMPICS in Beijing, which formally open on February 4, may turn out well for China, but less so for the city itself, at least in the short term.

Covid-19 precautions have prevented the influx of spectators that usually provide host cities with a tourism and spending boost and some burnishing of their reputation as a destination city.

The customary shutting down of nearby industrial plants such as steel mills to ensure blue skies for the duration of the games will reduce output and construction. The closures for these Games have been more widespread than for the 2008 Summer Olympics because the two satellite venues, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, which is over the border in neighbouring Hebei, are so far from the city centre.

Beijing is dealing with outbreaks of the Delta and Omicron variants of Covid-19. The 96 cases recorded since mid-January are a trifling number by international standards but not by China’s. It is the city’s highest number of cases since June and July 2020.

Additional control measures introduced in recent days will further dampen activity in the city. With the Games running to February 20, followed by the Winter Paralympics and the annual national legislative sessions in March, the restrictions are likely to remain in place for some time.

Authorities would not want an embarrassing failure of their ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards the virus during the games.

This has already forced the participating athletes to be contained within a tightly sealed Games’ bubble, and the ban on spectators save for a small, hand-selected few, including fewer world leaders than Beijing would have liked given the US-led diplomatic boycott over Xinjiang.

In the long-term, the city will benefit from the construction and transport links already completed for the games, especially if it enables Beijing to develop a winter sports industry in Yanqing and Zhangjiakou once the pandemic has passed.

Creating a national winter sports industry is an official goal despite a lack of tradition in snow sports, but one in which the milestones are being dutifully hit ahead of the showpiece Games.

The officially reported total costs for the Games are $3.9 billion, well above the $1.6 billion estimated for operational costs when awarded in 2014. However, that is par for the course for any Olympics.

However, it is unlikely the Games will be as financially austere as portrayed. Some estimates have put the cost at ten times the official number once all the transport and infrastructure costs are added, including capital improvements to some of the venues used for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. For comparison, the actual cost of the Sochi Winter Olympics is estimated at $60 billion in 2022 dollars.

There is nothing unique about an Olympics being portrayed as cheaper to stage than they genuinely cost. However, putting on this edition of the Games successfully and cheaply in the middle of a global pandemic is intended as both a vindication of the zero-tolerance policy and a projection of global power.

Also likely to be quietly ignored in the razzmatazz is the production of artificial snow. The Beijing Winter Olympics will be the first to rely almost entirely on fake snow in the absence of the real thing.

This has also raised environmental questions as the Games will need to draw more than 220 million litres of water to generate it from a region that is already suffering from increasing aridity.

How much of the final bill will be picked up centrally, and how much by the city is not publically known.

Significant contributions by private companies will offset part of the costs. There are 45 local sponsors of the Games, in addition to the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s 14 international sponsors, all hoping to dodge reputational risks from human rights issues. Many have been untypically quiet promotionally ahead of the games, at least internationally; their Olympic-themed advertising campaigns have been in full swing in China.

The IOC itself will make its customary contribution to the Games’ operating budget, in this case, $880 million. Like its international sponsors, it is distancing itself from human rights issues, although it may virtue signal via a public if controlled meeting with the unaccountably low-profile tennis star Peng Shuai. Unlike the following two sets of Games in Paris and Milan, the IOC did not require the host city for the Beijing Olympics to sign a human rights agreement.

Beijing is a $630 trillion economy. Visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin might like to reflect on the fact that three Beijing’s would be a more significant economic entity than the entire Russian economy.

A few billion dollars here or there to support the Games will not break Beijing economically, even if there is an opportunity cost to losing any stimulus effect from the Games, and, as with all Olympics, the legacy value of the construction undertaken will be fuzzy. Further, the city would probably have had to foot much of the additional costs of containing the latest Covid surges.

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2 responses to “Let All Sorts Of Games Begin

  1. Pingback: Let All Sorts Of Games Begin — China Bystander – I See Predators

  2. Pingback: China Takes Soft-Power Gold At Beijing Winter Olympics | China Bystander

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