U.S. prepares for zero spectators for Beijing Winter Olympics as COVID protocols expected to be similar to Tokyo

USOPC chair Susanne Lyons says “I think that it is entirely possible that once again there will be very limited attendance outside of operational staff”.

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Athletes take part in a figure skating competition held as a test event for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, inside the Capital Indoor Stadium, in Beijing, China April 3, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
Athletes take part in a figure skating competition held as a test event for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, inside the Capital Indoor Stadium, in Beijing, China April 3, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee says it is expecting limited attendance for overseas spectators at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Speaking with reporters in conference call, USOPC chair Susanne Lyons says she expects to see the same anti-COVID protocols put into effect in Beijing as were employed in Tokyo for the just-ended Olympics. As for whether friends and family members of U.S. athletes would be able to go to Beijing, Lyons was not optimistic.

“In terms of friends and family, I don’t think there’s been any announcement about spectators. But I think that it is entirely possible that once again there will be very limited attendance outside of operational staff,” Lyons said.

With less than five months to go before opening ceremony in Beijing, no plans for public ticket sales have been disclosed by Beijing 2022.

Lyons says sponsors are waiting for the publication next month of playbooks from Beijing organizers. But if similar to the protocols for Tokyo, sponsors will not be permitted to activate any hospitality programs in Beijing.

Olympic rings are seen above products of The Coca-Cola Company, a corporate sponsor of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games, at a supermarket in Beijing, China July 30, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
Olympic rings are seen above products of The Coca-Cola Company, a corporate sponsor of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games, at a supermarket in Beijing, China July 30, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

Lyons says events based in the U.S. will take the place of activities in Beijing.

“We were able to put together some tremendously impactful events for friends and family on the ground here in the U.S.,” Lyons said. About 550 family members of Olympians were guests of the USOPC at events in Florida and Colorado during the Tokyo Games.

“I think they had a much better time than those of us in Tokyo. While it can’t replace being in Tokyo to hug your son or daughter in their moment of glory, it was a good way to make them feel connected and part of the Games. And if need be, we will do it again,” says Lyons.

The U.S. will send a team of 300 to Beijing next February. Hirshland said Team USA will be “the best prepared” in Beijing.

Lyons says one of the lessons from Tokyo that will be applied to Beijing is making sure there’s adequate mental health services for U.S. Olympians.

“We had athletes in quarantine unexpectedly, or in a very few cases athletes who were not allowed to compete. We were fortunate to have a good amount of mental health staff so that’s something we learned and will be prepared for,” Lyons says.

Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland spoke to reporters following the latest quarterly meeting of the USOPC board of directors and the decision to require all members of the U.S. team for Beijing to be vaccinated unless medical or religious exemptions apply. There was no mandate for vaccination in Tokyo.

Questioned about the next steps for a Salt Lake City bid for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Olympics, Hirshland said that discussions are ongoing and active with the IOC. She says she does not believe the IOC will make any move to name a 2030 host prior to the Beijing Winter Games.

The 2030 Winter Olympics are the next to be chosen by the IOC. Along with Salt Lake City, other potential hosts include Sapporo, Barcelona and Vancouver.

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