Spectators at Beijing 2022 from outside the closed loop must apply and test, test, test

People must volunteer to attend the Games, but there are no details on who is selected and why

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2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Final - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Spectators wearing face mask watch the event. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
2022 Beijing Olympics - Freestyle Skiing - Men's Ski Cross - Final - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 18, 2022. Spectators wearing face mask watch the event. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

ZHANGJIAKOU, China — They are the privileged few. Sitting stiffly in the stands — or maybe they’re just frozen to the seats in the sub-zero temperature — a sparse group of Chinese spectators at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games pay keen attention to the men’s aerials competition.

This is likely the first time they have seen the sport in person. They wave little flags with the Beijing 2022 logo at Genting Snow Park. When a life-sized Bing Dwen Dwen, the popular panda mascot, appears in the stands, they go crazy with delight, craning their necks and taking photos.

And when China’s own Qi Guangpu wins the gold medal on Thursday, they cheer as loudly as they can, their voices muffled behind their masks. The other 1.4 billion Chinese residents have to watch on television.

Because of the pandemic, China’s ambitious ticketing program was scrapped. Instead, attendance at the Games is by invitation only for those who are not credentialed.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Ice Hockey - Men's Play-offs Qualifications - Canada vs China - National Indoor Stadium, Beijing, China - February 15, 2022. China fans hold flags in the stands. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
2022 Beijing Olympics - Ice Hockey - Men's Play-offs Qualifications - Canada vs China - National Indoor Stadium, Beijing, China - February 15, 2022. China fans hold flags in the stands. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Before the Games began, Beijing 2022 organizers said they expected 150,000 spectators to enter the closed loop. There are also spectators from within the closed loop, including athletes, coaches, volunteers and staff.

There were 15,000 spectators at the Opening Ceremony in the Bird’s Nest Stadium. Although they have separate entrances and exits, some did accidentally mingle with media in the mad rush to leave the stadium.

Organizers have been cagey about the number of spectators since and how they are selected, dancing around direct questions at press briefings.

“In order to create a favorable atmosphere for the competition, we have overcome a number of difficulties and challenges to organize spectators on site,” said spokeswoman Yan Jiarong.

While she said having an audience is welcomed by the athletes, “of course, COVID control is the top priority. We have to look after the needs and demand of the fans to see the Games on site.”

Yan said a majority of the fans come from outside the closed loop. They are residents from Beijing and Zhangjiakou who have been invited and organized by different institutions including educational institutions, community institutions, community organizations. The spectators are fans of winter sports, residents and students. Others are foreigners living in the local area who have been invited or who apply.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Snowboard - Mixed Team Snowboard Cross Quarterfinals - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 12, 2022.  Fans wearing face masks sit to watch the event. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
2022 Beijing Olympics - Snowboard - Mixed Team Snowboard Cross Quarterfinals - Genting Snow Park, Zhangjiakou, China - February 12, 2022. Fans wearing face masks sit to watch the event. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

“They have to make an application on a voluntary basis, first of all,” Yan said. “And they need to follow all the COVID countermeasures, before during and after the view of the game.”

According to the Associated Press, foreign chambers of commerce and employees of companies that are Olympic sponsors said they received invitations to the Opening Ceremony.

The spectators are required to get a third dose of a vaccine as a booster and present two negative PCR tests before they attend an event. They also must take two tests when they get home. Although they can go to work, they are discouraged from being around large crowds.

They receive N95 masks and take buses to their venue. According to the AP, guards check foreign passports or Chinese identity cards. Spectators must show a smartphone app that tracks their movements and health condition. They pass through metal detectors and have a temperature scan.

Cameras, computers, pens, selfie sticks and outside food and drink are prohibited, but they can take photos on their phones.

Yan said that she asked her colleagues for information about the spectators, noting with incredulity, “So many people are paying attention to that.”

For example, on February 9, in the Zhangjiakou area, with the snow sports, there were more than 2,200 spectators, while about 1,000 were on site for men’s ice hockey in National Indoor Stadium, which has a capacity of 18,000.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group A - Finland v United States - Wukesong Sports Centre, Beijing, China - February 3, 2022. Fans inside the stadium before the match. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
2022 Beijing Olympics - Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group A - Finland v United States - Wukesong Sports Centre, Beijing, China - February 3, 2022. Fans inside the stadium before the match. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

In the large indoor venues, such as the Ice Cube, Capital Indoor Stadium, National Indoor Stadium and the National Speed Skating Oval, the fans look like a checkerboard pattern with one seat between each person and diagonally staggered by row.

Around the Rings asked several volunteers if they knew anyone who had attended as a spectator, but they did not. They also did not know how people could apply.

Gal Jia, who is an employee of a sponsor, told the AP she went to the Opening Ceremony as a spectator. She said after going to a hotel for a security check, the attendees were bused to the Olympic park and walked about 3 kilometers to the stadium.

“We were quite tired, but the excitement offset all of it,” she said. “When we got inside, everything had turned blue. We felt, wow, it was all worth it.”

The experience for spectators watching each sport is different.

At the ice hockey venue, young people in hockey jerseys lead cheers with complicated arm movements, and the spectators gamely try the copy them.

Their groans are in the right place after a miss.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group B - China v Japan - Wukesong Sports Centre, Beijing, China - February 6, 2022. China fans celebrate in the stands after the match. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
2022 Beijing Olympics - Ice Hockey - Women's Prelim. Round - Group B - China v Japan - Wukesong Sports Centre, Beijing, China - February 6, 2022. China fans celebrate in the stands after the match. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“We have found the enthusiasm of the Chinese spectators — they are cheering for the athletes of all countries,” Yan said.

At Big Air Shougang, American music from the 1970s and 1980s blared over the loudspeakers, such as  “Jump” by Van Halen and “That’s the Way” by KC and the Sunshine Band. The spectators and media had their own pathways, which were very close together. But while the spectators could go to the souvenir stand, the media could not.

While they are technically inside the closed loop, they are still outsiders. A sign below the stands made it clear: “Closed Loop. No Crossing.”

Organizers had said they could bring in more spectators for the closing ceremony, but Yan would not commit. “Whether we want to invite more spectators,” she said, “that is only an assumption at this moment. We still have to make the judgment as we proceed.”

Brian McCloskey, chair of the Beijing 2022 Medical Expert Panel, said that because China is a country where the risk of COVID-19 is low, the spectators were also low risk.

“In public health terms, what is the absolute safest way?” McCloskey said. “The smallest number of people on the field of play, lock the doors around them, and don’t let anybody else in, but that’s not sport and it’s not the Olympics.”

He said the small number of spectators “creates the right atmosphere and keeps the risk as low as possible.”