BEIJING – In general, Chinese officials insist that the Olympics are not about politics, but sport. In the end, controversy and scandal also haunt them.
For all of China’s efforts to host the Winter Olympics in a festive spirit, Beijing 2022 has turned out to be an unhappy spectacle: constrained by a global health disaster, filled with geopolitical tensions, once again defiled by allegations of doping and overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine.
As athletes marched into Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium on Sunday night to close out the most controversial Olympics in years, China could celebrate its withdrawal on schedule, despite everything. It was a success, however, as measured by the low level of avoiding total disaster.
The most indelible memory of this Winter Olympics – besides the images of Olympic workers and volunteers signed up to wear hazmat – will most likely be the scene of a 15-year-old Russian skater falling on the ground. ice after being allowed to compete even though a test revealed traces of a banned heart drug.
The figure skater, Kamila Valieva, burst into tears after her poor performance, only to be berated by her coach, prompting organizers and observers to think about how much they demanded. for athletes who are, after all, still children.
The International Olympic Committee, which has spent years fighting doubts about choosing an authoritarian country as host, has spent much of the past two weeks dodging controversy after the controversy in Beijing. .
In addition to the troubling issues raised by the Valieva episode, it also faces questions about eligibility for athletes isolated after testing positive for Covid; on the fate of Peng Shuai, the tennis player and former Olympic athlete who denounced a high-ranking Chinese official of sexual assault; about the inevitability of injecting politics into an event in order to rise above them.
“One can say nothing but sigh,” said Orville Schell, director of the Center for US-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. “Such a powerful occasion, designed to promote openness, good sportsmanship and transnational solidarity, has finally turned into an ideal stadium like Potemkin, tightly controlled. closely, like the Potemkin of the Olympic ideal.”
The IOC has since revised its process of selecting host cities, in part to avoid the chance to once again strike a bargain with Faustian as it did seven years ago, when Beijing eliminated Almaty, the country’s former capital. another authoritarian state, Kazakhstan.
At the end of Sunday’s ceremony, China will transmit the torch for the 2026 Winter Olympics to the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo. The Summer Olympics will take place in Paris in 2024, in Los Angeles in 2028 and in Brisbane, Australia, in 2032 – where it is hoped that questions of human rights will not dominate the process. prepare.
China has become the first country to host the winter and summer editions in the same city, an achievement the country’s leaders see as a victory of the Communist Party’s will.
The 2008 Summer Olympics, which took place in many of the same venues, at the time seemed like a call for respect after decades of poverty and political turmoil.
To China’s critics, these games are like a necessity.
Chinese officials accuse the United States and other countries of politicizing the Olympics, denouncing President Biden’s diplomatic boycott as “a farce”. However, China also injected its own political elements.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, met Russian President Vladimir V. Putin just hours before the opening ceremony, expressing support for Western threats to punish Moscow if its forces they invaded Ukraine.
China also chose to carry the Olympic torch for a soldier injured in a deadly clash on the border with India in 2020. The Olympic flame was lit by a cross-country skier from Xinjiang, The province is undergoing a campaign of mass re-education and incarceration that the United States has called genocide.
An official from the Beijing Organizing Committee warned the participants not to violate the Olympic Charter’s rules about making political statements. Two weeks later, another official violated it by restating China’s claims to Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island, and denouncing criticism of its policies in Xinjiang. is a lie.
Those comments prompted Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, to issue the committee’s only public criticism of the hosts, though it was mild. The committee’s overall opposition has led to harsh criticism from China’s critics, who say the Olympics are allowed to “wash up” serious violations of fundamental rights. politics and people.
Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher with the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, said on Friday: “The government doesn’t just commit crimes against humanity.” “The government is showing off its brutality.”
Through it all, the sport has shined.
Norway, a country of only 5 million people, has repeated its phenomenal success at the Winter Olympics, topping the medal standings with 16 gold medals, a record and 37 medals in total. Eileen Gu, an 18-year-old skier from San Francisco who has competed for China, became the breakout star of the event.
Some athletes, focused above all on their sports, have praised China’s preparedness. Nick Baumgartner, the veteran American skier who, along with Lindsey Jacobellis, won a gold medal in snowboarding, described the mountain sites northwest of Beijing as “wonderful”.
“I would say, out of the four Olympics I have been in, how precise and beautiful the manicure and everything is, is beyond amazing,” he said after the race to win the Olympic Games. Zhang Jiakou.
For thousands of athletes and other attendees, Beijing 2022 is like no Olympics before, not even last year’s Tokyo’s delayed Summer Olympics, to contend with. with the impact of the pandemic.
The events take place inside what organizers call a “closed loop” system that turns hotels and venues into islands in the Olympic archipelago, separated from ordinary Chinese by fences and temporary checkpoint. Everyone inside gets a daily test for Covid.
As a tool of China’s “zero Covid” policy, it worked. Only a handful of athletes have to miss their competitions, and in the end, there are days when not a single test comes back positive. Many athletes have accepted the measure. Some see the dark side in them.
“Honestly, you get cotton swabs every day and you have your own bedroom,” said Meryeta O’Dine, a Canadian skier and bronze medalist. “It’s really sweet.”
Outside the closed loop, the air around Beijing has softened. No foreign audiences are allowed to attend and only specially invited Chinese tourists with screenings can attend.
“This is a Winter Olympics that pleases the Chinese leadership,” said Wu Qiang, an independent political analyst in Beijing. “It has nothing to do with ordinary people.”
Drum rounds are rarely exciting, although fans still support the Chinese athletes. The Chinese team has the best number of medals at the Winter Olympics, winning 9 gold medals and 15 joint medals.
Perhaps it is the result of Mr. Xi’s pledge to create a nation of more than 300 million winter sports enthusiasts in a country with little tradition like them.
Mr. Bach, the president of the IOC, suggested that the number could go even higher, creating “a completely different landscape” for future international winter sports. “Imagine,” he said.
Bach’s comments alluded to concerns over the Olympic movement. For much of the world, these Games passed with a shrug. Television viewership in the United States has fallen by about 50% since the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics; There were also similar declines in Canada, the UK and other countries.
Mr. Bach tried to be brave about everything, pointing to 2.7 billion “interactions” on the committee’s social media accounts. The Olympics, he said, “reached” 600 million people in China alone, an unknown number that could not be verified.
Ultimately, what does the Olympics mean for China? In another closed loop, which is the country’s media and propaganda ecosystem, China has won.
Outside of China, the Olympics may not have had much of an impact on world perception. Maria Repnikova, an expert at Georgia State University on China’s “soft power,” said: “Getting some positive news, or at least less negative, doesn’t necessarily convert perceptions. public perception of China.
Nils van der Poel, a Swedish speed runner who has won two gold medals, said awarding the Olympics to China was “terrible” and alluded to Nazi Germany hosting the World Cup. Olympics in 1936. “I think giving it to a country is as blatantly a violation of human rights as the Chinese regime is doing,” he said. told a Swedish newspaper after he returned home.
In 2008, China’s hosting of the Olympics actually led to a more negative view of the country, according to global opinion surveys, as international attention shed light on the nature of the political system. treat. At the time, many wondered if being an Olympic host would bring about a positive change for the country. This time around, very few people have such hope.
Claire Fu research contributions. Keith Bradsher contribution report.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/20/world/asia/olympics-closing-ceremony-beijing.html With the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics, China celebrates the victory with joy