By: the Asia Sentinel staff
China is yet again indulging in an orgy of undeserved self-congratulation instead of recognizing the considerable damage its hosting the Winter Olympics has done to its soft power in the west.
Widespread publicity and protest against the repression of millions of Uyghurs marred the games. Sports were riddled with doping scandals, and foreign journalists – and in some cases participants – were subjected to what the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China called state-sponsored intimidation tactics and surveillance including online harassment, cyber-hacking, physical assaults, and visa denials.
Having spent tens of billions of yuan to build facilities, train skaters, etc., and organize the event in a virus-free bubble for the Winter Olympics, it can boast that, finishing third, it won more gold medals than the United States, which finished fourth, although the biggest medal-winner was Norway, with a population barely two thirds that of Hong Kong, followed by Germany.
China’s biggest medal winner, Gu Ailing, is an American named Eileen Gu, who won two golds and a silver as a skier. Its 25-member men's ice hockey team was comprised mostly of foreign-born players, including five who played in North America's National Hockey League. Californian Beverly Zhu, who changed her name to Zhu Yi to compete as a figure skater for China, was savaged by millions of Weibo users after she fell twice during the free skate event, part of the women's team competition. China finished fifth in the event.
The games were dominated by agonizing pictures of the 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva, who was allowed to compete despite failing a drug test and wilted to sob her heart out on camera after she finished fourth anyway.
Then there is the question of how representative the winter games are of the world’s athletic preoccupations. Some of the sports represented by the 109 gold medal winners are played by a tiny number of people, unlike the summer games. In fact, overall only 91 nations of the world were even represented at this event for the obvious reason they don’t have conditions for such sports, compared with 206 at the 2020 Summer Olympics held in 2020 in Tokyo. Even in participant countries, they are largely – Scandinavia apart – reserved for the well-off or those trained up by government institutes for nationalistic reasons.
Not a single medal was won by anyone from Africa, Central or South America, West, South, or Southeast Asia. Yet in spite of this singular lack of participation by countries representing well over half the world’s population, the Winter Olympics continue to award ever more gold and other medals.
If anything remotely involving justice remained in the Olympic area, these games would never have been in Beijing anyway but in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s elegant former capital. Too often, television viewers were treated to jarring pictures, including ski runs (above), on which there was no snow except the manmade variety. By contrast, Almaty’s southern suburbs reach some of the finest skiing in Asia and it has plenty of other winter sports facilities with which Russians, in particular, are familiar. Almaty lost out to Chinese money and power in the contest to hold the event though Beijing is far from where most of the outdoor events are supposed to be and what the games are mainly about.
That the games are held anywhere where snow and ice have to be created at enormous expenditure of power is especially disturbing at this time of climate awareness. If the committee had any ethics, it would site the winter games permanently in a neutral, snow-dusted country like Switzerland and the summer games in Greece, where they originated millennia ago.
But don’t ask the International Olympic Committee any difficult questions, let alone why 15-year-old skaters, like their equivalents in gymnastics, are subjected to physical abuse by drugs and coaches driven by adult greed and nationalistic zeal. But there is too much money to be earned by the committee from nations seeking propaganda victories by paying through the nose to host the games. The committee has been wracked by scandal after scandal in the past for in effect selling the games to the highest bidder, too often for personal gain.
Fantastic article and a pleasure to read. Thank you.