The International Olympic Committee has selected Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Rights groups have urged China to fully respect its “human rights obligations in the preparation and hosting of the Games.”
The Chinese capital beat Almaty in a secret ballot of 85 International Olympic Committee (IOC) members held in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. The decision makes Beijing the first city to host both the summer and winter Games.
But how did that come about? Traditionally, the Olympic Games are not held twice in a row on the same continent. The South Korean city of Pyeongchang will host the 2018 Winter Olympics, and in 2020, the Summer Olympics will be held in the Japanese capital Tokyo. Two years later, the Winter Olympic flame will burn in Beijing.
Excellent infrastructure and great potential
The IOC justified its decision on the grounds that the Chinese city has a better infrastructure than Kazakhstan’s Almaty. Beijing needs to build only one stadium for the big event as existing facilities built for the 2008 Summer Games can be converted into halls for the ice sports.
However, Beijing does not have mountains and snow. Therefore, the Games will take place not only in Beijing but also in Zhangjiakou, which is about 220 kilometers (136 miles) from Beijing. The Chinese government has promised to connect both cities by high-speed trains by 2019.
Winter sports such as biathlon and luge were previously not very popular in China. The IOC said ti believes that there is a good chance to inspire some 1.3 billion Chinese to like these games. In a video message ahead of the vote, Chinese President Xi Jinping underlined how much his country appreciated the Olympic spirit and values of the Olympics.
In recent years, China has hosted major international events such as the 2010 World Expo, which was held in Shanghai. This adds to China’s international prestige and acceptance as a rising superpower. However, one of the biggest concerns – as was the case in 2008 Summer Olympics – remains China’s acute air pollution. In winter, the Chinese capital is heated with coal, which emanates thick smog that lasts for weeks. Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun told the IOC in Kuala Lumpur that his administration was trying to reduce air pollution. Deputy Prime Minister Liu Yandong also guaranteed that the pollution problem would be tackled.
Last but not least, the issues of press freedom and human rights in China will once again come into focus.
“It will be the biggest challenge in the implementation of the Olympics concepts,” said Alfons Hörmann, president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB).
Prior to the IOC decision, five Chinese human rights groups had urged the IOC to not award the Winter Olympics to China.
“If the IOC awards the Games to Beijing, it sends a signal, a message to the entire world, that it’s the right thing to encourage a dictatorship which violates human rights blatantly on a larger and larger scale,” said activist Rose Tang.
The non-government organization Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Friday that the IOC, in choosing China to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, “faces massive challenges in fulfilling its expressed commitment to human rights.”
“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, the rights group’s China director. “In choosing China to host another Games, the IOC has tripped on a major human rights hurdle.”