The importance of the Olympics in the general outlook of any country cannot be gainsaid. More so for a country like China that is clearly emerging as a global powerhouse in various fields traditionally associated with developed countries, particularly in the economic sector.
Like other competing countries, China has used these elite sports meetings to showcase its athletic prowess in international sports. Since the end of the Cold War, according to ChinaPower, the country has been a top competitor at the Summer Olympic Games, netting some 204 gold, 148 silver, and 134 bronze medals up to 2016, placing it at second place in total medals after the US.
Well, the curtains have finally fallen on the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Originally scheduled to take place from 24 July to 9 August 2020, the Games were postponed to 23 July to 8 August 2021 due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
The People’s Republic of China had a full contingent of sports teams except in baseball (softball), handball and surfing. It was PRC’s 11th appearance at the Summer Olympics since the country’s debut in 1952. During last month’s event, the country won 88 medals, 38 of them gold, an improvement of its previous performance at the Rio Olympics where it won 70 medals and 26 gold, moving it from the third position in Rio to second place. Realistically though, and as the Chinese media aptly noted, China was actually in first position, if you include the medals won by the rightful Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Taiwan.
On September 6 the country’s government sent a congratulatory message to the country’s Paralympic delegation for their accomplishments and sportsmanship at the just concluded 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. “You have won immense glory for your country and people, and we extend warm congratulations and heartfelt compliments to you.” China’s Paralympic team won 96 gold, 60 silver and 51 bronze medals, topping both the gold and total medals rankings in the last five Paralympic Games consecutively.
Now all eyes are turned on China as Beijing gears up for the green 2022 Winter Games set to start on February 4. The leadership of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has no doubt that the country will deliver one of the best events yet.
“All the elements are now in place for China to host the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, which will change the landscape of winter sports forever. The whole Olympic family is looking forward to this global festival,” declared President of the IOC Thomas Bach in a congratulatory letter sent to the 2021 World Winter Sports Expo held in Beijing.
All competition venues have been completed and passed on-site pre-certification tests, while the Olympic Village and International Broadcast Center have also been cleared to host visitors. According to Zhang Qian, head of international relations department of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games Organising Committee, more than 300 campaigns to raise awareness on winter sports have been held in China in recent months, engaging nearly 100 million people. Over 1.1 million people have also signed up as volunteers.
Following China’s promise to stage a Green Olympics, all venues will be powered 100 per cent by renewable energy using wind power and solar photovoltaic systems to generate electricity. The Beijing Games are only the second Winter Olympics to achieve ISO 20121 certification, an international standard governing sustainable event management created by the International Organization for Standardization.
Head of the planning and construction department Liu Yumin said that to ensure that the 2022 event is the best ever, “ten international test events, two domestic test events and three international training weeks will be held in Beijing from October to December.” In addition to testing the facilities and the whole system, these events will also act as tests of the effectiveness of the planned anti-COVID-19 measures.
Subsequent to the lessons learnt in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics and “taking into consideration Beijing’s current anti-virus policies,” observed Liu, “preventive measures will be implemented specific to each venue’s needs.” Some temporary facilities, such as separate walkways, wall claddings, makeshift restrooms and isolation centers, are being added to all venues to minimise exposure and cross-infection.
Indeed, it is critical that the Winter Olympics are a resounding success to act as a symbol of triumph over the coronavirus pandemic. China holds the dreams of much of the rest of the world that COVID-19 need not be a defining factor of human progress in the coming years. That the new normal will actually be business as usual if we all put our efforts together in achieving a common goal.
Moreover, February 4 will act as a litmus test of China’s overall resilience amid adversity. Over the years, the country has overcome seemingly insurmountable socio-economic and political challenges and emerged victorious against all odds. This is the message and attitude that must come out of Beijing before, during and after the forthcoming games.
The writer is the Executive Director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi based research and development communication think tank.