The 2022 Winter Olympics are just around the corner. Beijing is now all set to host the games from February 4, which are scheduled to last more than two weeks.
With the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics in memory, the Chinese capital is going to write its name in history as the first-ever city in the world to have held both summer and winter Olympic games, i.e. ‘the dual Olympic city’.
It’s not just luck that brings this honour to China. The nation has earned it. It is time to take a look at how the two sports events have transformed China inside out, and their impacts on the relations of the country with the rest of the world.
The 2008 Games were a winning moment for China. It won 51 gold medals for the first time – unseating the US, which won 36. The 2008 Olympic steered the way for China both as competitor and transformation of its image to the world. The summer Olympics in Beijing were a momentum for China to catch up with the US not only in sport, but in all other fields as well. The New York Times rightly said that the 29th Olympiad is China’s “coming out party, a show of its rising economic and political power and its re-emergence as a global power”.
China spent a record $43 billion on hosting the summer Olympics 14 years back when developed economies were being devastated one after another by the economic downturn. Prior to the successful summer Olympics, China suffered from an inferiority complex. After its completion, it gained towering self-confidence. The country’s economic growth was a global spectacle in a way unpredicted before.
China’s GDP (gross domestic product) was smaller than Germany’s in 2007. By 2017, China’s $12.2 trillion-economy became larger than those of Germany, the UK, France and Italy combined. China introduced the largest stimulus package in the world in late 2008, in the wake of the global financial crisis. It was also the first major economy to emerge from the crisis. Despite extravagant spending on the event, after a brief slowdown in 2008, the Chinese economy recovered and grew by 8.7 per cent in 2009 and by 10.4 per cent in 2010.
From 2001, when the country was chosen for hosting the 29th summer Olympics, to 2008, China transformed tremendously in terms of society, economics, politics and of course global impacts. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), China’s WTO accession in 2002 along with some other reforms, FDI (foreign direct investment) inflows increased from US$46.9 billion in 2001 to US$108.3 billion in 2008. However, the global financial crisis saw inflows into China decline to US$95 billion in 2009, before recovering to US$114.7 billion in 2010 and US$135 billion in 2017. The successful summer Olympics certainly played its role in increasing amount of FDI.
Beijing 2008 showed how a mega-event can have a significant impact on urban infrastructure and livability, provided it is properly integrated in an already existing programme of infrastructure, technology and policy roadmap development. The Chinese capital underwent a massive facelift after winning the bid in 2001 as roads were repaved, subway lines added, and hundreds of new infrastructures were built. The impressive development speed after 2008 has never slowed down.
The Beijing Olympics highlighted a number of environmental issues as well, including the city's air quality. Beijing set ambitious goals to improve the city's environment, ranging from addressing air and water quality and waste management to introducing environmental considerations in the development of new infrastructure. Major polluting industries were relocated and retrofitted, restrictions on construction sites were promulgated, coal burning boilers were converted to cleaner fuels like natural gas, and vehicle emissions standards were implemented within the city. The Olympic Village and competition venues developed a variety of water saving schemes and rainwater collection and re-use systems. Protection of drinking water reservoirs was also put high on the agenda. The improved waste processing system throughout the city in preparation for the Olympics still benefits the city today.
As Jacques Rogge, the then president of the International Olympic Committee, said: “The world has learned about China, and China has learned about the world, and I believe this is something that will have positive effects for the long term.” Indeed, the positive effects lasted long enough and are continuing.
The circle of “Olympics for development” reset in 2015 when Beijing campaigned for 2022 Winter Olympics.
It needs to be noticed that compared with summer Olympics, winter Olympics are even more technology-intensive and capital-consuming. Even developed countries in Europe had to think twice in bidding for hosting the games.
According to media reports, St. Moritz of Switzerland (host country of IOC headquarters) and Munich of Germany (home country of IOC President Thomas Bach) were rejected by their citizens in referendums. Krakow of Poland, Lviv of Ukraine, Stockholm of Sweden and Oslo of Norway withdrew their bids at different stages as well.
In contrast, with the successful experience in hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics and ever boosting economy for four decades, China was ready to bring Olympics home again. Compared with itself 14 years earlier, China has grown into the second biggest economy in the world, and has uplifted all its population out of absolute poverty. Despite the ongoing pandemic, China has achieved a marvelous economic growth of 8.1 per cent year on year in 2021.
In the meantime, China’s global influence reaches new height through its anti-pandemic diplomacy, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and advocacy of building a community with shared future for mankind. This time, Beijing obtained 94 per cent public support for organising the event at home, and won its bid by defeating Kazakhstan by 4 votes.
Like previous Olympics, China has set new sustainability plan as well. Beijing Organising Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games (BOCOG) said they will follow green and sustainable development principles during the preparation for the games. Pre-Games Sustainability report summarises the efforts in pursuing sustainability, improving local environment and accelerating economic development. Some of the previous infrastructures built for the 2008 Summer Olympics are also put in use for the winter games.
A growing China may be beneficial for all, but clearly not satisfying everyone. Before 2008 summer Olympics, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution, condemning China’s record on human rights and called for a boycott. But, evidently, the US attempt didn’t work much. More than 80 heads of state and government, even including George W Bush, the then US president, joined the opening ceremony.
Like it did in 2008, the US is trying to politicise the event this time also. The US first staged a “diplomatic boycott” – claiming refusal to send any officials to the event – even before receiving an invitation letter. Then it pushed some of its allies to follow suit. So far, around six to seven governments from the 90 countries participating in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics have opted to join the move, while the IOC expresses its firm opposition to the boycotts and reaffirms that it maintains a neutral position on political issues. Indicating previous boycotts, IOC President Bach said, “It really served nothing but punishing the athletes and then led to the counter-boycott…..”
It is, however, noteworthy that, despite claiming the “diplomatic boycott”, the US has submitted visa application to China for 18 US officials to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics. According to media reports, the Chinese side has granted visas to some members of the US team composed of government officials including those from the Department of State, and many of them hold diplomatic or service passports. Whether the US visa applications for its diplomats and officials contradict the so-called “diplomatic boycott”, it is the US side which should answer the question.
Covid-19 and its newer variants are still overshadowing the normal activities of the world. China is enforcing a strict set of Covid-19 rules at the Winter Olympics to stop the fast-spreading Omicron variant. From a closed-loop system to a ban on shouting, it is adopting all necessary safety measures. It is highly expected that these work and the games go successfully to the end, and spread peace and friendship worldwide.
In his recent speech at the 2022 World Economic Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping said to the world audience, “We are confident that China will present a streamlined, safe and splendid games to the world. The official motto for Beijing 2022 is ‘Together for a Shared Future’. Indeed, let us join hands with full confidence, and work together for a shared future.”