— Published 10 November 2021

Beijing 2022, almost normal Winter Games

The sentence of the day, in the Olympic movement, is to put to the credit of a Chinese. Less than 90 days before the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, it will probably not be the last one. But the words of Xu Jicheng, one of the leaders of the organizing committee, could well settle for a long time in the top 10.

“Nothing has changed at all, explained the most serious of the world the Chinese official Tuesday, November 9, at a press briefing organized in virtual mode with the IOC. Nothing has changed, only the prevention measures against COVID-19. But it will be like putting on a raincoat”. All he admits is that these rules could prove “a bit awkward.”

With less than three months to go before the opening, the Chinese organizers have yet to announce their final decision on the presence of the public on the sites. They set up a sanitary bubble clearly more hermetic than that prepared by the Japanese for the Games of Tokyo 2020. But according to Xu Jicheng, nothing has changed. Normal Games, or almost, for the accredited, once they put on their “raincoat”.

Hard to believe. But the Chinese insists. And he brings evidence. If they can’t leave the sanitary bubble, the accredited to the Beijing Games will be offered inside almost everything they could have found outside, minus the local population. Xu Jicheng detailed it on Tuesday, November 9: beer bars, stores, restaurants serving foreign food, and even a silk market. A Beijing in miniature, therefore, reproduced in a sanitary bubble to give foreign visitors the impression of living the Games where “nothing has changed at all”.

Reassuring? Not sure. But Christophe Dubi, the director of the Olympic Games at the IOC, recognized it in front of the media: the Games of Beijing will be the most reduced since several decades in terms of foreign presence. The number of accredited persons should be around 20 000. A record.

For the rest, the questions remain. The public, especially. The organizing committee has still not announced what size of spectators – exclusively Chinese residents – will be imposed on the competition sites. Nor has it announced a date for the launch of ticketing.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Beijing 2022 Games, admits: “We should have already solved the ticketing problem several weeks ago. But we all learned together, the hard way, how difficult it is to make plans in a world dominated by the COVID.”

The Spanish leader makes no secret of the fact that the IOC is clearly leaning toward having spectators at the venues, even in limited quantities, so as not to relive a second consecutive closed-door Olympic event. But he also recognizes that the decision does not belong to the authority. “We must wait and give as much time as possible to our Chinese counterparts to make the right decision. We wouldn’t want to make a final decision now on reduced capacity because of the COVID cases in China, but we also wouldn’t want to go the other way.”

Another grey area: travel. With less than three months to go before the opening, flights to China from abroad remain scarce. Christophe Dubi acknowledged on Tuesday, November 9 that the issue should be resolved without too much delay by the Chinese, to allow delegations, media and other stakeholders to organize their travel.

But the IOC did not wait to send to Beijing a first contingent of accredited persons. “We already have a number of our staff from OBS (the IOC subsidiary in charge of image production) on the ground, as well as media operations personnel and partners involved in the operations,” explained Christophe Dubi. They all live in a bubble. A habit.