The People’s Republic of China and the 2022 Winter Olympic Games

Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony © 12019/ Public domain/ Pixabay

Beijing’s success did not absolutely arrive by chance. Indeed, Beijing started its bid to host the 2022 Winter Games as an underdog and, thanks to a mix of pianification and strategy, obtained success. In the last 20 years Beijing had already hosted an important event, that is to say the 2008 Olympics. It is the first city to host both the summer and winter olympics. In order to prepare itself for such an event, important infrastructure and enormous investments were done, albeit at a lower cost than other host cities thanks to the infrastructure already built in 2008 (White, 2022). Just to mention a few, the Beijing National Aquatics Center, also known as the “Ice Cube'', that cost 940 milion CNY (131 milion EUR), or the National Stadium of Beijing, known as the “Bird’s Nest, which has a 80000 people capacity and cost around 2.3 billion CNY (320 million EUR). The Capital Gymnasium that hosted volleyball in 2008 has hosted short-track speed skating and figure skating in 2022 (Myers et al, 2022).

The decision for China to host the 2022 games was made seven years ago, in 2015. At that time, there were many reasons for which China was not to be considered as a winning candidate, yet things turned out to be favorable for China. At the very beginning, China’s President Xi was aware that China was not the first choice for the selection committee, which was due to the fact that in that period China was going through a pollution crisis which used to make air unbreathable at times (Myers et al, 2022). Moreover, one of the greatest fears of the selection committee regarded the environmental impact of the event: in particular, they were worried by the fact that there was almost no snow on Beijing’s slopes as those territories lack water, therefore no chance to ski. Beijing’s answer to this problem was found in building pipelines to bring water and machineries to produce snow. Also, China was known for being a country without the winter’s sports culture.

In response to such claims, Xi Jinping did not seem to be worried, as he claimed that China would have delivered the appropriate results on time. Xi was aware that pressure on this situation was high, however China did not have to prove to the world its ability to manage big events, because they already had showcased a great achievement in 2008. Therefore, according to Xi, they deserved the chance to host the 2022 event. To successfully organize the Olympics, Xi Jinping promised green, safe and simple Games (Xinhua, 2022).

Yet, China’s intention to host the Winter Games was not something new: China proposed Harbin, Heilongjiang capital city to host the 2010 winter games, however this bid was absolutely unsuccessful, since the city was not even shortlisted. Back to the 2015 bid, China seemed unlikely to make it, since there were many more cities, especially in Europe that were running to host the competition, however during the process, all of them renounced this opportunity. The final round was between China's Beijing and Kazakhstan’s capital, Almaty. The result stated that Beijing won by four votes (44-40). Since that moment, Beijing has kept its promise to deliver the result. This is shown by the investments made throughout the years towards the games: indeed Xi Jinping stated that China would have become a “winter sports wonderland”. This was later confirmed by numbers provided by Xinhua agency, as Chongli, a little city near Beijing passed from having 2015’s 480000 visitors to 2.8 million in 2018 and 2019 winters.China had seemed ready for most of the event, and so it will be interesting to observe how this has subsequently impacted China's domestic management of the pandemic. As everybody knows, China has become quite paranoid about the spread of coronavirus Covid-19, given their zero-cases policy (Xinhua, 2021). In particular, the world is waiting to understand what measures have been adopted in case some athletes tested positive to the virus once in Chinese territory. Given that the situation is extremely delicate, it is difficult to foresee what the geopolitical implication of the event will be, however some statements can be made.

A paramount goal for the Olympic organization committee was to keep a low budget. In 2015, Zhou Xing, Deputy Minister of Finance and Market Development for the Games and a Beijing Winter Olympics bid committee member, said that "[they] have money and strength, but will spend the money in a financially austere manner, and still hold a high-quality Winter Olympics" (Xinhua, 2015). In fact, for the preparation of the 2008 summer games, costs amounted to more than 40 billion USD, half of which were devoted to infrastructure building (McBride, Manno, 2021). The target budget for 2022 of 3.9 billion USD, the lowest in two decades, which looks small in comparison to the 2008 games, but also to the Winter games in Sochi in 2014, which had a budget of 50 billion USD. Even the last Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang cost 14 billion USD. The Chinese government tried to share the burden with the private sector (China Briefing, 2021).

To increase investment in the winter sport business, China introduced tax incentives for private businesses. For example, revenues stemming from the Olympic games will be exempted from corporate income tax, and sponsors, suppliers, and franchised operators will not have to pay value-added tax and consumption tax on goods provided to the Beijing Organizing Committee (BOC) for the Olympic games. There are also advantages for companies sponsoring the games, such as marketing rights and exclusive rights to provide products and services in a certain time and geographical scope. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) collaborates with 13 major sponsors - Airbnb, Alibaba Group, Allianz, ATOS, BRIDGESTONE, Coca Cola, Intel, OMEGA, Panasonic, P&G, SAMSUNG, TOYOTA, and VISA - and the BOC has signed agreements with 45 sponsors divided in 4 tiers, according the the official website. While visitors will not be a major source of revenue, there still are other possibilities, such as sales of merchandising such as gloves and mascots. Still, some doubts on the very low budget for organizing the Olympics remain (Teh & Stonington, 2022).

As the 2022 Olympic games are set to start on february 4, the world is wondering: why is this event so relevant for China? Although the question may sound naive, the answer is everything but obvious. According to the Chinese government this could be another important step towards China’s most desired goal: the completion of the national rejuvenation, and the beginning of a new glorious era. Regardless, the Olympics will start in an extremely complex geopolitical scenario. First of all, because of the pandemic, the world still does not know what China’s approach will be like during the event in case of a new spread of infections. Also, the case of Peng Shuai, the tennis athlete that denounced to be victim of sexual allegations, put China once again in the position of be judged negatively by western media. Indeed, as the west considers China’s behavior inappropriate in respect to human rights, great pressure has been put on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in order to monitor whether China will or will not respect the rights of people coming from abroad. In sum, some problems have been solved through the years, such as the one of air pollution, but new ones have emerged in the meantime.

Apart from establishing which country uses the best model to prevent the spread of coronavirus, there are other things that are at stake. Indeed, China is trying to prove itself as a world leader in many other fields. One of the most important is surely the technological one: the Olympics will be, according to the government, environmentally free, as enormous investments have been made not only to build modern infrastructure, but also to abolish the negative impact on the environment.

As it is possible to see, there are many differences between the two events, the world has changed enormously since the 2008 Olympics, and now China has other issues to resolve. What is sure is that the 2022 event will give the world a lot to discuss and to talk about, especially under the economic impact it may have on China.

Niccolò Ellena is a 25 years old master’s degree student from Prato, Tuscany. He’s studying international relations at The Catholic University of Milan, specializing in Africa-China relations. Prior to moving to Milan, he spent 3 years in Florence studying for his bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and cultures, where he focused on English and Mandarin Chinese. Driven mainly by curiosity, he also spent half of the second year of his bachelor’s degree in China, at Wenzhou University, where he studied Mandarin Chinese. Now, being close to completing his master’s degree with a thesis on the “Belt and Road Initiative”, he hopes to further continue his studies with a doctoral degree in politics, to try to understand more in depth how China and Africa are interrelated. You can find him on LinkedIn.

Giacomo Migliore is a Master graduate in International Business. His thesis compared Chinese and Italian users' behavior in respect to ePayment. He worked in a finance and tax consultancy in Shanghai. He completed an internship at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and is currently working as a Blue Book trainee at the European Commission. You can find him on LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.

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