For The New York Times | Steven Lee Myers, Keith Bradsher and Tariq Panja
Seven years ago, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) met to choose a host for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Chinese leader Xi Jinping sent a short video message that helped sway the balance in a contentious and controversial vote.
China had limited experience in winter sports. In this country, little snow falls on the distant hills where outdoor events would take place. Sometimes the pollution was so thick that they called it “Aeropocalypse”.
Xi pledged to resolve all of this and put his personal prestige on what seemed like a bold gamble. “We will keep all the promises we have made,” Xi told Olympic delegates at the meeting in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
Although the games are only a few days away, China has already delivered. He overcame obstacles that once made Beijing’s bid seem like a long shot and faced new ones, including an unending pandemic and growing international concern over his authoritarian behavior.
Like in 2008, when Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics, the games have become a showcase for the country’s achievements. Only now it’s a very different country.
China no longer needs to prove its position on the world stage; instead, he wants to proclaim the radical vision of a more prosperous and secure nation under Xi, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. If the government ever sought to appease its critics to make the games a success, it is challenging them today.
Xi’s government has dismissed criticism from human rights activists and world leaders, as well as prejudice from those who would keep China locked down. Implicitly, Xi warned sponsors and broadcasters who will air the matches not to give in to calls to protest or boycott the country’s political crackdown in Hong Kong or its crackdown in Xinjiang, the majority country’s northwest region. . Muslim.
China overruled the IOC in negotiations over health protocols to combat COVID-19 and imposed stricter security measures than those applied in Tokyo last year during the Summer Olympics. China has insisted on maintaining its “zero COVID” strategy, developed since the first lockdown in Wuhan two years ago, regardless of the cost to its economy and people.
China critics, labor and human rights activists and others have accused the committee of failing to pressure Xi to change the country’s increasingly authoritarian policies. However, this assumes that the committee has some influence to exert.
China’s relentless, even ruthless efficiency is precisely what attracted Olympic delegates after the exorbitant costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the chaos of harrowing preparations for the 2016 Summer Games. In the janeiro river.
Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Olympics, said in an interview that China has proven to be a willing partner and able to do whatever it takes to make the event happen, no matter the challenges.
“Organizing the Games,” Dubi said, “was easy.”
The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies that cast a shadow over the Olympics. Although the committee’s own charter calls for “strengthening the promotion of and respect for human rights”, officials said it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.
Instead, what matters most to the committee is managing the Olympics. In choosing Beijing, the committee relied on a “safe election”, said Thomas Bach, chairman of the committee.
Where the snow hardly ever falls
Beijing’s bid to become the first city to host both Summer and Winter Olympics came to fruition when Lim Chee Wah, the scion of a Malaysian casino and golf course builder, moved to a Beijing booming in the 1990s, and wanted a place to ski.
Lim drove for five hours on winding roads northwest of Beijing to a mountainous region populated by cabbage and potato growers. The only ski resort in the area was a wooden building with a restaurant, a few hotel rooms and a small ski shop.
“I came out and said, ‘Where’s the ski lift?’ and they said to me: ‘Do you see this road going up?’ “, he recalls in an interview. A Toyota Coaster minibus transported skiers up the road to the top of the slope.
Lim, who had learned to ski in the US resort town of Vail, Colorado, soon struck a deal with local officials to turn 22,000 acres of mostly barren hills into China’s largest ski resort.
In 2009, he met Gerhard Heiberg, Norway’s representative on the Executive Board of the Olympic Committee, who had overseen the organization of the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer. Together they began to imagine how to organize the Olympic Games on the hills near the Great Wall of China.
China has promised to spend only $1.5 billion on capital projects at venues, and an equal amount on operating expenses, a fraction of the cost of the Olympics in Sochi or Pyeongchang, South Korea, which cost nearly $13 billion in 2018.
It seemed unlikely that China’s bid would succeed, especially since the 2018 Winter Olympics would also be held in Asia and officials hoped the next host would be a country in Europe. Then one European city after another pulled out, leaving Beijing to rival Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.
The final count was 44-40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty supporters were furious over a flaw in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote”. That Kazakhstan plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the games now seems, in retrospect, further validation of the decision to choose Beijing.
“I don’t think that’s an exaggeration and I’m not fake or negative towards the Chinese; quizás no habrían obtentionido la victoria si algunas de esas ciudades europeas se hubieran mantenido en la carrera”, dijo Terrence Burns, a mercadeo consultant who worked in the candidacy of Almaty and para Pekin cuando China consiguió los Juegos Olímpicos de 2008. “¿Pero you know that? They held on, and you know, winners find a way to win.
the olympic coxswain
In the months leading up to the 2008 Olympics, Xi was in charge of final preparations. He had recently joined the country’s highest political body, the Politburo Standing Committee. This assignment was a test of his leadership potential.
Xi took particular interest in military preparations for the Olympics, including the installation of 44 anti-aircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an airstrike on the city seemed far-fetched.
Preparations for these Olympics reflect Xi’s style of government, which has been at the center of every decision, from the design of the Chongli Olympic Village to ski brands and ski suits. In line with increasingly nationalist policies, he expressed a preference for Chinese ski equipment over imports.
When Xi first went to inspect sites in Chongli district in January 2017, he asked local authorities to be careful not to overbuild, a common trend among officials in China who use any international event as an excuse to extravagant projects. .
Xi has visited Olympic venues a total of five times to check on progress, with the last inspection taking place earlier this month, when he said the proper management of the Olympics was “China’s solemn commitment to the community. international”.
Due to the coronavirus, foreign and even Chinese spectators are not allowed to attend the Olympics. Instead, China will only allow authorized viewers of its choice. It will primarily be a spectacle for Chinese and international viewers, offering a choreographed view of the country the Xi government wants.
If the coronavirus can be brought under control, Beijing could stage the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the right to host seven years ago. The Xi government has already declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already gearing up for the 2036 Summer Olympics.
“The world is looking forward to China,” Xi said in his New Year speech, “and China is ready.”
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