Tag Archives: IOC

China Takes Soft-Power Gold At Beijing Winter Olympics

THE 2022 BEIJING Winter Olympic Games have concluded. From the Party’s point of view, it will be seen as a winner.

The giant ‘closed loop’ that kept Games in a bubble successfully contained the Covid virus and will be taken as a vindication of the zero-tolerance policy. The US-led diplomatic boycott of the Games by a handful of countries turned out to be an irrelevance. No international corporate sponsor broke ranks. Nor did any athlete speak out, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was compliant with the Alice Through The Looking Glass notion that international sport is not politicised. Human rights fizzled out as an issue.

China improved its medal count to 15 from nine at the previous games, and, more lustrously, nine were gold versus one last lime. Nine golds were also one more than the United States achieved, even if the US team won 10 more medals overall.

National pride was stoked. The games had an audience of 600 million on state TV and were enthusiastically received. US-born Snow Princess Gu Ailing, who won two golds and a silver, became a national icon and the happy face of the Games, seemingly seen everywhere on state TV, advertising billboards and magazine covers. Her mother, Gu Yan, has become a parenting role model on Weibo. Move over, Tiger Mom.

The sad face of the games was that of the Russian skater Kamila Valieva, caught up in a doping scandal that deflected the spotlight of adversity from China as the Games headed for their conclusion. At least internationally; state media did not give Valieva’s case much prominence.

The tough-love treatment of the 15-year old by her coach after failing in one of her events to win an expected gold medal also confirmed these as the Joyless Games in the eyes of many outside China.

The athletes, too, found the strict isolation of life in the Games’ bubble with its relentless Covid testing regime stressful, those put into quarantine after testing positive especially so. This was even less reported by state media than Valieva, which instead shared on social media only positive comments by athletes such as praise for the friendliness of the Games’ volunteers.

None of those complaints will much concern Beijing, for whom these Games were an exercise in soft power projection — as are all Olympics for their hosts, it should be said. As this Bystander noted previously, whereas the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing celebrated China’s coming out in the world, these Winter Games were about reinforcing that this is Xi’s moment.

Domestically, it will have reaffirmed the Party’s leadership competence, especially the centrality of President Xi Jinping, and presented a glowing picture of China’s presence on a world stage on China’s terms. The success of these Games is an important milestone for Xi on the road to the Party Congress later this year.

Internationally, the Beijing Winter Olympics will have sent the same message as to the domestic audience. However, it will be read differently; China is a rising power that will pursue its path regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

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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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IOC To Retest All Beijing Olympic Doping Samples

The International Olympic Committee is taking the unprecedented step of retesting all 5,000 doping samples taken during the Beijing Olympics. It is looking for a new blood boosting drug recently detected during testing in cycling’s Tour de France.

The IOC disqualified six athletes for doping during the Beijing Games  — Ukrainian heptathlete Lyudmila Blonska, Ukrainian weightlifter Igor Razoronov, Greek hurdler Fani Halkia, North Korean shooter Kim Jong Su, Spanish cyclist Isabel Moreno and Vietnamese gymnast Thi Ngan Thuong Do. Three other cases are still pending.

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IOC’s Rogge Denies Web Censorship Deal With China

Was there or wasn’t there a deal between China and the International Olympic Committee to restrict foreign journalists’ access to sensitive web sites, as at least one IOC official has indicated?

IOC president Jacques Rogge, speaking on the issue for the first time, says “I’m adamant in saying there has been no deal whatsoever to accept restrictions. Our requirements are the same from host city to host city and remain unchanged since the IOC entered into a host city contract with Beijing in 2001.”

Access is now being allowed to some previously blocked human rights sites, including Amnesty International’s (at least for foreign journalists if not most Chinese) but other sites remain off-limits or with blocked parts less than a week before the Beijing Games begin.

These unsightly wrangles over censorship, along with the persistent problems with Beijing’s air quality and the stories of doping among athletes were not the final week’s build-up to the Games the authorities were planning for.

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Olympic Protesters Out Of The Medals

A quick update on Steven Spielberg’s withdrawal as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics in protest over China’s links to Sudan and its lack of pressure on the Sudanese government to end the civil war in Dafur: A foreign ministry spokesman said it “regrets” Spielberg’s decision, and that “some people may have ulterior motives, and this we cannot accept”, according to a BBC report. All pretty much par for the course.

Some other gleanings from around the commentary on the issue: The International Olympic Committee has a majority of members from African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries, so China can expect there won’t be much support for human-rights boycotts in that direction.

One of the two U.S. members, Anita DeFrantz, a medal winner at the 1976 Olympics, is a lawyer with a track record, so to speak, of opposing Olympic boycotts.

U.S. president George Bush will be Hu Jintao’s personal guest at the games.

None of which offers much hope that the only two actors that matter when it comes to applying external pressure via the games, the IOC and the U.S., will get behind any calls for a boycott.

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