— Published 4 January 2022

One month before the Beijing Games, the IOC does not want to lose its athletes

One month to go until the Beijing Winter Games. On Friday 4 February 2022, the Chinese capital will become the first city in history to host both Summer and Winter Games. But with just one month to go before the opening, the Olympic and Paralympic event remains in doubt. More than its holding, its participation is a source of concern. The participation of the athletes, major players in the Games.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s director of the Olympic Games, repeated it again on Monday 3 January in an interview with the Swiss TV channel RTS: the Beijing Games will take place. The scenario of a cancellation is not envisaged. Neither is a postponement. The Chinese government has reminded us several times, and again last Friday, that we can go ahead,” he explained. They are very confident. They have put in place an extremely sophisticated health bubble. The athletes will have virtually no contact with the outside world and will be tested daily for PCR.”

So the Games will go ahead. But with whom? With one month to go, the spread of the virus and the outbreak of COVID-19 cases around the world are causing a huge mess among the Olympic delegations.

American skier Mikaela Shiffrin announced last week that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. She was forced to withdraw from several Alpine Skiing World Cup events. The virus has also affected Swiss skier Lara Gut-Behrami, Austrian Katharina Liensberger and New Zealander Alice Robinson. The NHL has already pulled out of the ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Games. The Canadian bobsleigh team has placed thirteen of its members, including ten athletes, on medical protocol. The US Olympic speed skating trials, scheduled for this weekend, will be held behind closed doors.

National Olympic Committee (COC) Director General David Shoemaker was the first to publicly express his concern. We are concerned,” he admitted this week in an interview with CBC. The real challenge for us over the next 30 days is to get our athletes to Beijing without contracting the virus. No one wants to arrive in China and be forced to spend several weeks in quarantine.”

When asked by USA Today, Dick Pound, the oldest IOC member, agreed. Although he considers the chances of the Beijing Games being cancelled to be “very small”, the Canadian leader acknowledged: “We have never had an event of this nature in living memory. Certainly, the virus travels around the world, and the more people travel, the more people are in a position to catch it or spread it. So it’s natural to be, as David Shoemaker was, concerned about the health and safety of athletes and teams.”

With one month to go, athletes should be focused on their training and terminal preparation. With one thing in mind: arriving on D-Day in top form. But the emergence of the Omicron variant, and its exceptional contagiousness, is changing that. Their new priority has changed: it is now to avoid contracting the virus.

Christophe Dubi acknowledges that the current health situation is both unprecedented and unexpected. My main concern is the increase in the number of cases among athletes,” he told RTS. We obviously don’t want to lose any of them a few weeks before the Olympic Games, when they have made it their goal for many months.

Dick Pound echoed this sentiment: “The concern is for all the people who are not yet in China. What would happen if they were hit one after another, a bobsledder here, a skater there? If we get to a stage where it’s just Chinese athletes, then no, it wouldn’t be the Olympics and they wouldn’t be recognised as such.”

The Chinese and the IOC are reassuring. They express confidence in the safety of the sanitary bubble prepared for the athletes and the Olympic family. It promises to be the most airtight bubble in history. But it will be necessary to be able to reach it.