Olympic-Sized Obstacles En Route to Beijing 2022

Tianjin outbreak poses new challenge for Beijing . . . 

Weeks away from the start of the Beijing Olympics, China is fighting to keep COVID-19 outbreaks away from the capital. Concerns were amplified on Sunday when locally transmitted cases of Omicron were detected in nearby Tianjin, which led quickly to a travel ban. China’s ‘Closed Loop’ bubble around the Olympics requires all athletes to be fully vaccinated with multiple negative PCR tests. Unvaccinated athletes can opt for a 21-day quarantine. One already has. Finding transportation will be the first Olympic trial for many: China has cancelled multiple flights to and from the United States, France, and Canada. Hong Kong International Airport has also restricted flight transfers from 150 countries, creating another obstacle for travellers bound for Beijing.

China’s zero-COVID strategy - still going for gold?

When it was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics eight years ago, China envisioned an Olympics that would build upon the success of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, promote a positive image internationally, and promote economic development in Beijing and the nearby Yanqing and Zhangjiakou regions. But the country’s commitment to its zero-COVID policy, something most other countries have abandoned, requires that much of the flair and pizzazz that accompanies the Games, such as large crowds of international spectators, be absent. A successful, COVID-free Olympics would demonstrate the success of China’s strong approach to combating the pandemic, but any COVID outbreak could lead to international embarrassment. Today, China named a new executive director to its Olympic organizing committee, possibly signalling domestic strife only weeks away from the opening ceremonies.

A very different Olympics . . .

Beijing will be a very different Olympics than originally imagined. The soft power gains China aimed for will be muted by the lack of foreign tourism, diplomatic boycotts, and limits on media coverage. Canada’s Olympics broadcaster, the CBC, has announced a bare-bones media team is headed to Beijing, with most coverage and commentary being broadcast from Toronto. International broadcast revenues may also take a hit over the NHL’s withdrawal from the Games over COVID fears, as men’s hockey is a main attraction for viewers. China’s Olympic legacy will depend on how it contains COVID, but also on who participates in the Games and who does not.