With just days to go until the Opening Ceremony of the — Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, China, like much of the world, faces the challenge of managing the 2-year-long Covid-19 pandemic. Yet the International Olympic Committee is confident that China is as prepared as it can be to welcome athletes and teams from around the world.
Thomas Bach, IOC President, offers a glimpse of the environmental considerations of the Beijing Organizing Committee. “The biggest former steel factory in Beijing will be transformed into an urban sports park. A full transformation from such a steel factory to a green and sustainable area for the people, with offices on the one hand, and with leisure opportunities in the urban sports park on the other hand.”
Yet against this innovative approach China remains a country still unfamiliar to most westerners, and a surge in political reporting on the country resulting in an appropriation of airtime and column space where sporting coverage of the Olympics would usually feature, has not gone unnoticed by some experts and reporters who seek to understand more about the extent to which the Beijing Winter Games is being ‘whitewashed’.
Veteran TV presenter and reporter Martyn Andrews, host of shows on RT, and with appearances on Canada’s CTV AM, CNN, ITV and the BBC, over 20 years, is an avid traveler, having visited over 170 countries. Having presented and reported on the Sochi Winter Games and as a visitor to China twice before, sports fan Andrews considers two recently conducted studies on the Beijing Winter Olympics, and how they are connected.
“Looking at the output from eight mainstream media outlets, and a poll in the United States, I welcome everyone to take a second look at what we have long held to be right,” says Andrews.
“Of 276 separate reports covering the Beijing Winter Olympics, and published across AP News, FOX News, the New York Times, the BBC, NBS, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, researchers found that 77% of them (212) focused on human rights or political boycott.”
Eric Merkley, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, explains the degree to which the media influences behaviors. “The media does so in different ways. They can frame stories in a certain light. So take a particular event, frame it a certain way to influence peoples' interpretation of that event.”
Merkley believes this primes people to think of certain issues and make them more important.
Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games senior advisor, Jeff Ruffolo, asks why such reports about the Winter Games exist considering the “terrible stuff” going on in the United States. Ruffolo muses that it is neither here nor there whether a similar outbreak of Covid-19 in China could be erupting now, or not, because ‘as far as the foreign media is concerned, it is’, says Ruffolo.
Results from a recent poll conducted in the United States targeting more than 300 people with an annual income of US$70,000+ and a bachelor degree or above, revealed that 63% who were concerned about the Beijing Winter Olympics were also concerned about human rights issues, while those who were concerned about topics directly related to the Winter Olympics itself was just below 40%. Overall, the main issues that the respondents cared about were directly proportional to the main issues reported by the media.
On a ‘boycott’ of the Beijing Winter Olympics, Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy at the U.S. Naval War College, Nicholas Sarantakes, doesn’t believe one is particularly effective. “The historical lesson to be learned is boycotts don't work. Trying to manipulate the Games, I think, is kind of unwise,” he says.
“Boycotting a sports festival won’t do a whole lot and is probably just going to end up angering people. I don’t think it's realistic to expect Olympic teams to carry the weight in the foreign policies of their home nation states.”
“Is it right to politicize the games? No. Is it going to happen? Yes. Are countries physically going to boycott these games? Yes. I believe they will. Politicians have the power to pull the Games away from their athletes,” continues Ruffolo.
American freestyle skier, Jaelin Kauf, has been on skis her whole life. “Every 4 years, we get one opportunity for the Olympic medals, to be able to represent our country on that stage,” she says. “It would be devastating to knock that opportunity and have to wait another 4 years for that.”
With considerable underreporting of the Beijing Winter Olympics itself, Christophe Dubi, IOC Olympic Games Executive Director, explains his first-hand experience. “Upon arrival into Beijing the closed-loop was a seamless operation, and all staff had received very, very good training. It took us 35 to 40 minutes from the moment we came down from the plane, into the bus, straight into the hotels. The rules are designed to protect everyone, to make sure that the roles can be fulfilled,” he says.
A high-speed railway built in 2012 will transport athletes between Beijing and Zhangjiakou, the location of the main Winter Games venue. In just 20 years, China has built nearly 40,000 kilometers of high-speed rail, ranking first in the world.
Bach, the IOC president, talks positively about Beijing’s Olympic legacy. “Beijing will write history because it will be the first city ever to host both editions of the games, winter and summer. This is already an achievement… that Beijing does this in a way greatly benefitting from the  Summer Games by turning a number of these venues into venues for the Winter Games.”
“Under a misleading media, the general public's concern for the 2022 Winter Games seems to be centered on political issues,” says Andrews. “Let's forget about politics. Let's just concentrate on sport. If we are sports fans, let us not miss this opportunity to learn about the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, and appreciate it.”
Nearly 3,000 athletes from more than 100 countries will participate in the upcoming Games.
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