Beijing is set to become the first city to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics after it was chosen to stage the 2022 Winter Games.
International Olympic President Thomas Bach confirmed Beijing, which hosted the Summer Games in 2008, had been chosen ahead of Almaty in Kazakshtan at the 128th IOC session in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Friday.
“I am so excited. This is China’s pride,” Zhang Hong, China’s women’s 1,000m speed skating gold medal winner at the Sochi Games, told CCTV.
Only Beijing and Almaty had been left in the running after Oslo, Munich and Stockholm bowed to public pressure and decided not to pursue plans to host the winter sports showpiece.
David vs Goliath?
Had Kazakhstan’s pitch been successful it would have become the first central Asian nation to host the Winter Olympics.
With significant oil and gas reserves, it is now the largest economy in Central Asia and had been keen to use this event to increase investment, development and raise its profile.
Proven track record
But Beijing has already proved its worth as a successful Olympic host, having hosted the summer version of the games in 2008.
Its pitch was about being a safe choice and a top tourism destination with the infrastructure to handle large events. Becoming the first city to run both Olympic games could be tempting PR for the IOC.
Adding to Beijing’s bid is the city’s proven ability to control smog during the 2008 Summer Olympics. Beijing plans to stage ice events, while snow-based competitions would take place in Zhangjiakou in Heibei Province, 190 km northwest of the city.
Only this week Chinese officials re-iterated that pollution would not be a problem.
Xu Jicheng, deputy director of Beijing 2022’s press and communications department, said that “technically the pollution has been reduced and controlled, we have seven more years to go and it will be sunshine and white clouds.”
Lack of choice
With only two cities – both run by what could be considered authoritarian regimes – bidding for the prestige of hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics the question arises as to whether the games – and specifically the winter games – have lost their allure.
High costs and dubious returns have arguably made democratic countries – where politicians are forced to listen to their voting public and answerable to budget blowouts – wary of hosting the world’s biggest sporting events.
Over the past two years, cities in Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine have all backed away from proposals to host the Winter Olympics.
Oslo’s decision not to continue was taken for both financial and political reasons, the Norwegian Olympic Committee Secretary General, Inge Anderson told CNN last October.
Where once the promise of a boost to tourism and better national sporting facilities would suffice, it seems many countries are heeding the lessons learned from the debt experienced by Greece from the $11 billion bill for 2004 Athens Summer Olympics.
More recently, there’s the estimated $50 billion price tag for the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
IOC President Thomas Bach has stressed that the Olympic Charter of tolerance and no discrimination would apply to any successful bidder.
In its 2014 World Report, Human Rights Watch called Kazakhstan’s record “poor” in citing a crackdown on free speech, flawed trials and torture in its prisons as major concerns.
Then there are issues with individual rights, the group says Kazakhstan’s LGBT community was “living in fear” as a result of pervasive homophobic attitudes and a lack of government protection.
China too has humanitarian issues.
Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics were marred by forced evictions and Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently criticized China for having abusive, unaccountable domestic security forces.
Activists have also highlighted what they say is the country’s deteriorating human rights, with more than 260 Chinese citizens detained or questioned in a recent crackdown on communist party opponents, activists, journalists and academics.
“The Olympic motto of ‘higher, faster, and stronger’ is a perfect description of the Chinese government’s assault on civil society: more peaceful activists detained in record time, subject to far harsher treatment,” said Sophie Richardson, HRW’s China director.
“In choosing China to host another Games, the IOC has tripped on a major human rights hurdle.”