(ATR) That Beijing will be the first city to host Summer and Winter Games still comes as a surprise to many people.
Beijing is not known for winter sports or fabulous ski resorts, and initially was dismissed as a serious contender for 2022 when bidding six years ago. Lack of snow -- essential for a Winter Olympics -- seemed like a deal-buster.
But problems with public and government support scuttled four other bids from Norway, Poland, Sweden and Ukraine. That left Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, as the two remaining candidates when the IOC voted in 2015.
Since then, Beijing appears to have overcome early doubts. Arenas for ice events are ready in the city. Ski runs are in place in the modest mountains 200 km to the north of Beijing. A high speed rail line from Beijing will take spectators to the outdoor venues in 90 minutes. The snow on the pistes will be artificial.
But two complications remain for Beijing that could spoil plans for 2022. One is political, the other medical.
On the political front, as was the case for the 2008 Summer Olympics, China is in the focus of critics around the world who question the country’s human rights policies. Now the issue is treatment of Muslims in western China. Vast compounds in the region are being used as schools for the Uighurs, an ethnic minority. China maintains the facilities are benevolent training centers. Human rights groups say they are reeducation camps meant to assimilate Uighurs and destroy their Muslim heritage.
There have been calls for a boycott in 2022 to protest. So far, there are no takers.
It’s been more nearly 40 years since the last Olympic boycott in Los Angeles in 1984. The appetite for such protests seems to have diminished. And even though some current members of the U.S. Congress are among those calling for a boycott next year, the new Biden administrationprobably won’t push for one.
Back in 1980, when Jimmy Carter forced the US to boycott the Moscow Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Biden was a new member of the US Senate. He spoke at that time of the folly of the government threatening U.S. athletes who wanted to compete in Russia.
While the controversy over the Uighurs may be a nagging issue, it is unlikely to derail the Games.
A much bigger threat for Beijing 2022 is the medical crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.
While the IOC postponed Tokyo by one year in hopes of escaping the wrath of the pandemic fury, the schedule for Beijing 2022 has not changed. Opening ceremony is set for Feb. 4, 2022.
But corona countermeasures are already chipping away at preparations.
Important meetings with media and team leaders that usually take place on the scene have gone virtual. Test events are usually held in January and February the year before a Games. But this year, there aren’t any.
Incredibly, China has been able to halt the spread of the virus with strategic lockdowns and other measures. But now there’s a surge in Hebei province, where the mountain venues are located. The Lunar New Year holiday is just weeks away, the government is urging all to stay home.
Post-holiday statistics on coronavirus will be closely watched for a surge that may affect the Olympic timetable.
And Tokyo may prove to be a bellwether for Beijing. A Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics that take place in July may be the best thing for Beijing. If there’s trouble, the consequences will ripple west from Japan.
Vaccines and firm countermeasures are the best weapons to keep the Olympics going in Tokyo and Beijing. But the pandemic is still an untamed evil with no sense of timing, even for the Olympic Games.
This article originally appeared in Mainichi newspapers
Reported by Ed Hula.