1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing: 100 days to go

October 27, 2021

The 2022 Winter Olympics in China's capital will be a special Games, partly as a result of the pandemic. Much talk is of human rights, environmental damage and espionage rather than skis, bobsleighs and snowboards.

The Beijing 2022 Winter Games logo
On February 4, the 2022 Winter Olympics will start in BeijingImage: Kyodo/dpa/picture alliance

What is the COVID-19 situation in China?

Official case numbers are low, but their effects are significant. Since last week, new infections in the low hundreds have been recorded across the country. In a population of around 1.4 billion people, that isn't very many, but the regulations that followed the figures were fairly dramatic. In Ejin, in Inner Mongolia, around 35,000 people have not been allowed to leave their homes since Monday. Even residents of Beijing have been asked only to leave the city in critical situations. On Sunday, the Beijing marathon was canceled and apartment complexes have been closed off.

What impacts do the strong COVID-19 regulations have on the Games?

Those who are fully vaccinated and travel to China will have a better time than the unvaccinated. Without vaccination, athletes have to go into quarantine for 21 days, according to the so-called 'playbook' of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). A three-week isolation without adequate training possibilities is anything but perfect preparation for the biggest sporting event of athletes' career, which means hardly anyone will come to the Games without getting the jabs. Those who make it in to the Olympics bubble will probably be able to move relatively freely in the Olympic village, competition and training sites and victory ceremony locations. Athletes can use the Olympic transport system between competition sites in Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, but have to follow strict hygiene rules that include a permanent mask mandate and avoiding large gatherings. Only locals in Beijing will be allowed to attend events live.

IOC accepts China's Olympic vaccine offer

Why is there criticism of the Games in Beijing?

There are many reasons, mainly the notion that the human rights situation in China is unworthy of an Olympic host nation. Generally, in China, there's no freedom of expression, the press or religion. Minorities such as Tibetans and Uyghurs have had a terrible time in China. For years, Uyghurs have been suffering under the oppressive policies of the Chinese state.  It is assumed that more than a million Uyghurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang are in concentration camps. They undergo so-called "re-education measures." There are reports of forced sterilization and abortions, forced organ harvesting and torture. Human Rights Watch and Western governments have spoken of "genocide."

Representatives of the Uyghurs, Tibetans and the recently heavily suppressed opposition in China's Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong have protested against Chinese powers ahead of the Games and have demanded the Games be relocated. Basketball star Enes Kanter recently called Chinese President Xi Jinping a "brutal dictator."

Pro-Uyghurs protests in the UK
Worldwide protests continue against the human rights violations China has committed against the UyghursImage: Tayfun Salci/imago images/ZUMA Wire

Environmentalists are also up in arms about the Winter Games taking place in a city with a desert climate. There is hardly ever any snow in the area around the Chinese capital because there's little precipitation in winter. The same is true for the new ski areas, which are planned in the mountains and forests of the Yanqing Songshan National Park around 100 kilometers outside of Beijing.

What other reservations are there?

The German Ski Association (DSV) has concerns about possible espionage. After the DSV got in touch with Germany's federal intelligence service (BND), they were advised to leave data carriers or tapes with sensitive data at home. Germany's alpine skiing boss Wolfgang Maier said it has been recommended that only "essentials" be included in the equipment taken to the Games. "Everyone knows that their data will be tapped and that's an extremely uncomfortable feeling," said Maier. 

What do athletes think?

Aside from the anticipation of competing in world-class competitions in new or freshly renovated arenas, there is also an air of skepticism among many athletes because of the social, political and medical circumstances. Maximilian Klein, from the German Athletics Association (VAD), recently told German public radio station Deutschlandfunk that participants are conflicted: Unwilling to be connected with human rights violations, but also having trained for years to participate in the Olympic Games.

Beijing's Olympic facilities in early 2021
Brand new but with no snow: Beijing's Olympic facilities in early 2021Image: kyodo/dpa/picture alliance

"The anticipation is restrained at the moment," Maier told public broadcaster ARD. As was the case for many athletes, Maier and his team couldn't go to Beijing before the Games to familiarize themselves with the environment. That wasn't the case for short-track speed skaters, who took part in test competitions in Beijing. The COVID-19 situation in Beijing is "very, very strict," said Germany's Anna Seidel, who did admit to feeling very comfortable in the modern arena. "The ice was very good," Seidel said, also complimenting the organization. "There were people everywhere who could be asked questions and were looking to help. All in all, it was a successful event, and we felt absolutely safe."