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2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing: 100 days to go

What is the COVID-19 situation in China?

Official case numbers are low, but their effects are significant. Since last week, new infections in the low hundreds have been recorded across the country. In a population of around 1.4 billion people that isn't very many, but the regulations that followed the figures were fairly dramatic. In Ejin in Inner Mongolia, around 35,000 people have not been allowed to leave their homes since Monday. Even residents of Beijing have been asked to only leave the city in critical situations. On Sunday, the Beijing marathon was cancelled and apartment complexes have been closed off.

What impacts do the strong COVID-19 regulations have on the Games?

Those who are fully vaccinated and travel to China will have a better time than those who are unvaccinated. Without vaccination, athletes have to go into quarantine for 21 days, according to the the so-called 'playbook' of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). A three-week isolation without adequate training possibilities is anything but perfect preparation for the biggest sporting event of athletes' career, which means hardly anyone will come to the Games without getting the jabs. Those who make it in to the Olympics bubble will probably be able to move relatively freely in the Olympic village, competition and training sites and victory ceremony locations. Athletes can use the Olympic transport system between competition sites in Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, but have to follow strict hygiene rules that include a permanent mask mandate and the avoidance of large gatherings. Only locals in Beijing will be allowed to attend events live.

Why is there criticism of the Games in Beijing?

There are many reasons, mainly the notion that the human rights situation in China is unworthy of an Olympic host nation. Generally in China, there's no freedom of expression, the press or religion. Minorities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs have had a terrible time in China. For years, Uyghurs have been suffering under the oppressive policies of the Chinese state. It is assumed that more than a million Uyghurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang are in concentration camps. They undergo so-called "re-education measures". There are reports of forced sterilization and abortions, forced organ harvesting and torture. Human Rights Watch and western governments have spoken of "genocide."

Representatives of the Uyghurs, Tibetans and the recently heavily-suppressed opposition in China's Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong have protested against Chinese powers ahead of the Games and have demanded the Games be relocated. Basketball star Enes Kanter recently called Chinese President Xi Jinping a "brutal dictator."

Environmentalists are also up in arms about the Winter Games taking place in a city with a desert climate. In the area around the Chinese capital, there is hardly ever snow because there's hardly any precipitation in winter. The same is true for the new ski areas,which are planned in the mountains and forests of the Yanqing Songshan national park around 100 kilometres outside of Beijing.

What other reservations are there?

The German ski association (DSV) have concerns about possible espionage. After the DSV got in touch with Germany's federal intelligence service (BND) they were advised to leave data carriers or tapes with sensitive data at home. Germany's alpine skiing boss Wolfgang Maier said it has been recommended that only "essentials" be included in the equipment taken to the Games. "Everyone knows that their data will be tapped and that's an extremely uncomfortable feeling," said Maier.

What do athletes think?

Aside from the anticipation of competing in world-class competitions in new or freshly renovated arenas, there is also an air of skepticism amongst many athletes because of the social, political and medical circumstances. Maximilian Klein, from the German Athletics Association(VAD), recently told German radio station Deutschlandfunk that participants are conflicted, on the one hand unwilling to be connected with human rights violations, but on the other having trained for years for the Olympics.

"The anticipation is restrained at the moment," Maier told ARD. As was the case for many athletes, Maier and his team couldn't got to Beijing before the Games to familiarize themselves with the environment. That wasn't the case for short-track speed skaters, who took part in test competitions in Beijing. The COVID-19 situation in Beijing is "very, very strict," said Germany's Anna Seidel, who did admit to feeling very comfortable in the modern arena. "The ice was very good." Seidel also complimented the organisation: "There were people everywhere who could be asked questions and were looking to help. All in all it was a successful event, and we felt absolutely safe."

Source: DW

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Story first published: Wednesday, October 27, 2021, 15:00 [IST]
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