Den förbjudna staden med snö på taken
Den förbjudna staden i Peking.
Photo: Shutterstock

Not just a focus on sports at the Beijing Olympics


14 years after Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics are now being held in the same city. Goodwill, prestige and finances, according to sinologist Fredrik Fällman, are the driving forces behind China again applying to host an Olympic game.

China is not a country with a tradition of winter sports. At the Olympics in South Korea four years ago, the world's most populous state won only nine medals. The natural conditions do not work in favour of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. It is often cold in February, but not much snow falls, so all the snow needed must be produced. In addition, the country is criticized for its violations of human rights. Despite this, Beijing is now hosting the 24th Winter Olympics.

But the International Olympic Committee, IOC, did not have many cities to choose from when it came time to vote in 2015. The big favorite Oslo had pulled out at the last minute after a heated debate about high costs and media information about the IOC's list of demands, such as a cocktail party at the Royal Palace and full control over Oslo's advertising spaces. Only Beijing and Almaty in Kazakhstan remained; a competition Beijing won. 

Prestige, goodwill och finance

Fredrik Fällman
Fredrik Fällman, Associate Professor of Sinology.
Photo: Johan Wingborg

Fredrik Fällman is an associate professor of sinology at the University of Gothenburg. He researches Chinese history, religion and propaganda. He has visited the country many times and lived there for long periods both as a student and as a researcher/teacher.

He believes there are several reasons why Beijing sought the Olympics again. It is tempting to be able to say that you have a city, which has hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics and prestige in demonstrating to the world that your country can handle it. Ahead of the Olympics, for example, China has built new arenas and new high-speed trains, including between Beijing and Zhangjiakou, which is the place where several snow sports competitions are taking place. It now takes less than an hour to travel the more than 170 kilometers.

”China also gained some goodwill when they hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and want it again. But that will not be the case. Partly because of the pandemic, which means that no international audience can travel there, and partly because the country has been criticized for several years over their human rights violations. The country had also hoped for economic benefits, sponsorship and tourism as a result of hosting the Olympics.

Diplomatic boycott

When China won the 2008 Olympics, it promised to improve its human rights policy. There are no signs that this has happened. Instead, there are estimates that China has sent around one million Uighurs to camps in Xinjiang. Human rights organizations also point to, among other things, China's repression of Tibet and that the country has taken away Hong Kong's freedoms.

With reference to the country's human rights violations, several countries, such as Denmark, United Kingdom and the United States, have decided on a diplomatic boycott of the games. It means that the athletes participate as usual, but that top politicians do not visit the games. Sweden has not joined the boycott, but no one from the government will attend due to the pandemic.

Fredrik Fällman says that China would never acknowledge that the diplomatic boycott affects them and that the country instead focus on the arrival of Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as several invited African leaders.

“The boycott does not affect China. China does as it pleases and if the Western world does not like it, so be it. They know that economic ties with the West will continue. An example of this is that when Russia annexed Crimea, they had to leave the G8 cooperation, but despite the abuses against the Uighurs, China is still allowed to be part of the G20. There is no logic to that. And the American economy is so closely linked to the Chinese that Americans cannot break with them”.

Is there anything we, who are watching the Olympics on the sofa, should think about?
“We should ask ourselves the question "Is it good to have the Olympics here? Is it because the IOC is corrupt? Does China have too much power? We need to understand the doubleness, how the party-state creates a façade, but also to distinguish between party-state “China” and the ordinary Chinese who work and live their lives. China has the capacity to do anything, but at what price and on what terms? There is no freedom of speech. China is a society of control. For example, the Olympic team is recommended to bring empty phones and computers to reduce the risk of being monitored”.

What can we expect from the opening ceremony on February 4?
“It will be grand. The opening ceremony in 2008 showed Chinese culture and history, directed by China's most famous film director Zhang Yimou and he is also directing this year. The Olympics coincide with the Chinese New Year, so the excitement will surely be felt”.

“At the last opening ceremony some things were faked. One feature was that it would involve two children from each minority population, but it turned out to be children from the majority population dressed up in the minority population's costumes. It is possible that there will be similar spectacles at this opening”.

BY: Ulrika Lundin

    Briefly about the Winter Olympics

    Since 1924, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) organizes separate winter and summer games. The games have been held in Europe, in North America and in Asia in 13 different countries.

    The scope of the Winter Olympics has increased significantly in 98 years. Then 200 athletes from 16 nations participated and it was competed in 16 different disciplines. In 2022, 3,000 athletes from 95 nations will participate and the medals will be settled in 109 disciplines, which is seven more than it was in South Korean Pyeongchang four years ago.

    Countries that hosted the Winter Olympics

    • USA – 1932 & 1980: Lake Placid, 1960: Squaw Valley, 2002: Salt Lake City
    • FRANCE  1924: Chamonix, 1968: Grenoble, 1992: Albertville
    • ITALY – 1956: Cortina d’Ampezzo, 2006: Turin, 2026: Milano
    • NORWAY – 1952: Oslo, 1994: Lillehammer
    • JAPAN – 1972: Sapporo, 1998: Nagano
    • CANADA – 1988: Calgary, 2010: Vancouver
    • SWITZERLAND – 1928 & 1948: Sankt Moritz
    • AUSTRIA – 1964 & 1976: Innsbruck
    • THEN YUGOSLAVIA  1984: Sarajevo
    • CHINA 2022: Peking
    • RUSSIA – 2014: Sotji
    • SOUTH KOREA  2018: Pyeongchang
    • GERMANY  1936: Garmisch-Partenkirchen