After such a significant impact on the world of competitive sport, the COVID-19 pandemic was finally able to be managed to the extent of allowing a Summer Olympics, albeit without fans, in 2021. With Tokyo taking centre stage for the world of elite sport last year, Beijing stepped into the limelight for the 2022 Winter Olympics Games.
With an infrastructure already provisionally in place from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, China played host to to the 7-sport, 109-event spectacle that saw over 3,000 athletes from all over the world compete.
The looming threat of a Coronavirus breakout created a tangible sense of unease throughout the build-up to and then the event itself. A mandate to either get vaccinated or isolate for 3 weeks prior demonstrated the stringent methods in place that included extensive testing and an impenetrable chain-link fence.
The fence separated the participants in both a literal and metaphorical sense. There were minimal spectators allowed to witness events in person in order to try and contain the virus.
Throughout the event, a total of 437 positive COVID cases were diminished to 0 daily cases. The bubble within the city of Beijing helped to keep what many thought would be the overriding contributor to any potential blemish on the Games’ record.
Unfortunately for the organisers however, the global pandemic was just one of a number of issues they had to try to contain.
Security throughout the Games was significantly visible and the preventative methods in place to diminish the threat of cyber terrorism alongside the global pandemic by and large did a successful job. A comprehensive app was required for athletes to complete their wellbeing information throughout the event, a principle that was actively cautioned against by the FBI, who released a statement advising travelling individuals to leave their personal phones at home to avoid any potential malicious cyber activity.
The political and human rights concerns were voiced well in advance of the Games beginning and led to a very public joint diplomatic boycott of the Games from Australia and the United States of America. Despite this, the focus of the Olympic Games attempted to be held exclusively on the athletes themselves. Unfortunately however, this wasn’t always for the right reasons.
The War on Drugs
So far, 4 athletes have tested positive for banned substances throughout the Games however there is one in particular that has been a headline story throughout the Games.
Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva failed a drugs test in December, however this was only disclosed the day after she had helped her team to Olympic in Beijing. The Russian became the first female skater in history to land a quadruple jump at an Olympics, thrusting her into the headlines. The biggest aspect of this story however came in the shape of her being just 15 years of age.
The notorious synergy with which performance enhancing drugs and Russia seemingly intertwine at major sporting events reared its’ head once more at an Olympic Games after Russian teams were banned from competing after being found guilty of not being in compliance with international anti-doping rules.
With Russian athletes still allowed to compete, the 15-year old Valieva was carrying the hopes of a nation in figure skating yet the team gold medal is now under serious threat of being revoked.
Given her age, there has been strong condemnation from analysts, concerned of interference from others invested in the youngsters’ success, despite the skater describing her coaches as ‘masters’ on her return to Moscow. Lawyers acting on behalf of the teenager have cited contamination from her grandfathers medication as reason for the failed drugs test however there is an air off scepticism amongst the majority of outsiders looking in to Russia’s latest failed doping test on the world stage.
Throughout the competition, the sporting action provided plenty of drama and excitement, with Great Britain returning a solitary Gold medal in the Curling. Norway, with a population of just 5.5 million people, topped the medal tables with a fantastic 37 medals; 10 more than second placed Germany.
For China itself, a re-utilisation of many of the impressive stadia from the 2008 summer Olympics was not enough to detract from a number of eyesores, with the backdrop to the ski jumping at Shougang Big Air Park providing concrete towers resembling a similar structure to a power plant welcoming viewers to the event.
With many of the structures purpose-built for the Games, the natural environment to host such an occasion wasn’t immediately available for every event, leading to such a contrast of visual representations.
In reality, the 2022 Winter Olympic Games was always going to be a difficult and complicated process to negotiate. The overhanging threat of a COVID outbreak within the stringent security measures was a concern for athletes and organisers alike. An unexpected isolation from a positive test threatened to wreak havoc on an athletes’ participation in the Games and create an issue that extended beyond the bad optics for the Games as a whole.
Whilst the natural landscape of China provided a number of impressive venues alongside the already established stadia from previous competitions, a number of clearly artificial locations gave the impression of this Games being one to complete and ‘get through’ without really being able to enjoy it in the manner of Games gone by.
A renewed message of peace and solidarity came from the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach at the closing ceremony as he encouraged countries and political leaders to look to the performances of the athletes for inspiration. With the considerable number of distractions throughout the course of the competition, the performances in question became an unfortunate casualty of the various headlines created in China and a will sadly be remembered in a different light when the Games are reflected on in years to come.
When all is said and done however, the fact that a Winter Olympic Games of any standard was able to be carried out is an impressive feat in its own right.