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2022 Beijing Winter Games: What you need to know

February 4, 2022

Beijing 2022 will look different to previous Games. How tight are the restrictions? How many athletes will be there? And how much freedom of movement will they enjoy? DW answers five key questions.

View of the Olympics tower in Beijing with a flag for Beijing 2022 in the foreground
Despite familiar elements like the Olympic rings, this will be a very different Winter OlympicsImage: Peter Kneffel/dpa/picture alliance

Who will be competing at the Winter Games?

Some 2,900 athletes from more than 90 countries will be competing for medals in Beijing. Among them will be Germany's Claudia Pechstein. At 49, the speed skater who is taking part in her eighth Olympics, will be the oldest athlete in Beijing.

By the the time the closing ceremony rolls around on February 20, the medals will have been handed out in a total of 109 disciplines, seven more than in Pyeongchang in 2018. This is primarily due to new mixed competitions in ski jumping, short track and snowboarding. Also new to the lineup of events is the women's monobob in bobsledding.

Unlike at the Summer Games, there are only a few superstars at the Winter Games. American downhill skiier Mikaela Shiffrin and the reigning Olympic champion in figure skating, Hanyu Yuzuru from Japan, are among them. Dutch speed skater Ireen Wüst is also an exceptional athlete.

Where will the events be held?

The Olympic competitions are to be spread over three locations: Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou. Beijing will host the ice competitions: ice hockey, speed skating, short track, figure skating and curling. Some of the facilities used for the 2008 Summer Games are to be used again at the Winter Games. The only new facility will host speed skating. A special competition venue will serve as the hill for the big-air competitions in snowboarding and freestyle skiing. This was built in a former industrial area.

Shaun White: King of the halfpipe

Ski racers as well as bobsled and luge athletes will have to commute about 75 kilometers (47 miles) northeast from the Olympic Village to Yanqing, where the newly built ice canal and the Olympic ski runs are located. In Zhangjiakou, about 180 kilometers (112 miles) outside of Beijing, medals will be awarded in the remaining snowboard and freestyle competitions — as well as for the biathlon, cross-country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic . Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou are connected by a new high-speed train line.

However, there will almost certainly not be enough (if any) natural snow at any of the three locations, so this will probably be the first time that the Winter Games will feature 100% artificial snow. In addition, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou are located in a nature reserve, the area of which was appropriated for the Games.

A snow-covered venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China
China had to create the snow that covers this Olympic venue in BeijingImage: Fabian Kretschmer/DW

What is the COVID-19 situation in Beijing?

Organizers are doing everything they can to ensure the "smooth Winter Olympics" they promised. Part of the strict "no-COVID-19" strategy is mass testing and contact restrictions, including the lockdown of individual districts or entire major cities. Everyone arriving in Beijing must be tested before departure and on arrival and are only allowed to move within "closed circuits."

Daily PCR tests are mandatory, and the results must be uploaded to the official app "My2022," along with body temperature and other current health information. The app has been criticized over privacy and data security concerns. There had also been concerns about the tests because of the possibility of manipulation and deviating limits in China. Those who are positive have to go to a quarantine hotel for 10 days, but can test themselves out of this with two negative results at least 24 hours apart.

"The safety and health of participants is our top priority," Zhao Weidong, spokesman for the Beijing Organizing Committee (BOC), told the media on Tuesday. However, the Chinese have not achieved their goal of keeping the omicron variant outside the country's borders.

Still, despite the strict measures imposed due to the pandemic, a reduced number of selected Chinese citizens will be allowed into the venues to follow the action live. There will be no foreign spectators and ticket sales to the general public in China was halted last month.

How political are the Beijing Games?

Much time has passed since an Olympics host has faced such strong criticism. In fact, the last occastion was when the Chinese capital hosted the Summer Games in 2008. At that time, some had hoped that the presence of the Olympics would help bring political change and see China open up more. This didn't happen; on the contrary, China's political system currently appears more restrictive than ever.

There's been systematic repression of the Uyghurs and Tibetans, the opposition in Hong Kong has been suppressed, technical surveillance throughout the country has been stepped up, and recently there have been concerns about the wellbeing of tennis player Peng Shuai. Due to such human rights concerns, some countries, including the United States, Great Britain and Japan, have announced "diplomatic boycotts" of these Games.

Although Germany is not part of the diplomatic boycott, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier have all announced that they will not travel to Beijing during the Winter Olympics.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, has already announced that he will visit, even if his country again will not officially have a team there. This because in 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned Russia from all international sport for four years, after it found that data provided by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency had been manipulated to protect Russian athletes involved in its state-sponsored doping scheme.

However, Russian athletes will be in Bejiing competing as "neutral athletes" under the Olympic flag. Putin had received an official invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Are athletes allowed to make political statements?

"Any statement or behavior that goes against the Olympic spirit, and especially against Chinese laws and regulations, will have consequences," BOC member Yang Shu recently warned. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) referred to its Olympic Charter, which states that political statements are allowed in press conferences, interviews or via social media, but have no place in competitions or medal ceremonies. In addition, there was a reference to the requirement to observe "applicable laws," without further detail.

Therefore, it seems unlikely that any athlete will actually dare to comment on the political situation in China.

This article was adapted from German.