After a long race, Beijing has been awarded the Winter Olympics in 2022. The city of Almaty in Kazakhstan was in contention for the event due to it’s naturally snowy environment, but it was not to be.
The last time Beijing hosted the Olympics, it received record-breaking ratings, and it most likely will again. The ceremonies were beautiful, the choreography exquisite and few spectacles compared to the performances witness at the event. There was a pride and spirit in the event unmatched by most Olympic games that I’ve seen. Unfortunately, the theatrics masked several disturbing details.
When Beijing was originally selected to host the Summer Olympics in 2008, many people expressed concern over the nation’s air-pollution levels and a laundry-list of human rights issues. Representatives promised to address all these problems, even if the long-term solutions were not clear.
When talking with The New York Times, China’s Minister of Sport was quite open about the country’s faults. “China has certain areas where something is left to be desired,” said minister Yuan Weimin. Weimin argued that participation in global-market events like this one ‘will bring along advances in culture, health, education, sport and, not least of all, corresponding progress in human rights causes.”
Unfortunately, many people think the event did more harm than good. Sun Liping, a Professor of Sociology at Tsinghua University, believes that the Olympics may have reinvigorated many of the country’s older, repressive political beliefs. In a blog post from 2013 (translated on Business Insider), Sun explained the legacy like this:
“with the successful hosting of the Olympic Games, the psychology of caution transmuted into a fantasy of a national system concentrating forces to do great things…the national system fostered and encouraged the arbitrary and capricious use of power.”
In 2012, Jamie FlorCruz of CNN took a look at the Olympic’s legacy in Beijing. With regards to infrastructure, the 2008 Olympics in Beijing was both good and bad; many facilities were dramatically improved, including public transportation, roads and telecom systems. Unfortunately, in 2012, the government was also still subsidizing expensive facilities that no longer served a real purpose. Many of the venues from that event are already decrepit, and others are decaying rapidly. Still, this is to be expected whenever a city hosts this event. The real question is how these events improved China’s internal policies.
With regards to environmental and social impact, the Olympics did not live up to Yuan Weimin’s promises. The improvements made to fight pollution in 2008 are now long gone, and the World Health Organization has deemed the country’s air-quality unsafe during 60% of the year. While government officials are well aware of the problems, little is being done to fix it.
To prepare for the Winter Olympics, China will be building a “massive scale ski track venue“. They’ve once again promised to lower air-pollution, although now they’ll have to deal with added pollution from generators used to warm houses and cooling units used to preserve snow for the events.
Since 2008, the disputes with Tibet have worsened and the violence continues. Sophie Richardson, a director for Human Rights Watch, has said that “awarding of the 2022 Olympics to China is a slap in the face to China’s besieged human rights activists.”
Negotiations between Tibet and China are still going nowhere. The Communist Party of China refuses to acknowledge Tibetan separatism and insists on their involvement when appointing a new Dalai Lama. On top of that, the government continues to censor speech and imprison journalists who challenge their authority.
I hope one day Minister Yuan Weimin’s predictions come true. As the international community becomes more open, I hope the global community learns to face these (and all other) challenges. Because we can never forget, there’s nothing worse than missing out on competitive bobsledding.