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No snow, no worries? China gears up for its first serious Olympics

Impressively fake. How Hwee Young/EPA/AAP

No snow, no worries? China gears up for its first serious Olympics

The slogan of Beijing’s 2008 Olympic Games was “One World, One Dream”. It turned out many people in the world did not share Beijing’s dream. The torch relay became a public relations disaster for Beijing and the regime. It took a real disaster (a magnitude 7.9 earthquake in May 2008 in China’s Sichuan Province) to save the first Beijing games.

When Beijing was bidding for its second Olympic Games, namely the 2022 Winter Olympics, it chose the slogan: “Joyful Rendezvous on pure Ice and Snow”. This slogan is again perhaps not well chosen. It is arguable that ice and snow might be pure, but the snow will definitely be fake, man-made for the world to see. That said, the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games will be significant for China in many ways.

Although few Chinese have paid attention to the Winter Olympics, Beijing’s involvement in the Winter Games after its return to the Olympic family in 1979 was four years earlier than its participation in the Summer Olympic Games.

Chinese leaders, especially Deng Xiaoping, were eager to take part in both the summer and winter games of the 1980s to show the world a new China had emerged. But Beijing was quick to follow American President Jimmy Carter’s call to boycott that year’s Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. Chinese athletes, however, did take part in the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games that year in the United States.

Returning earlier to the Winter Olympics did not pay off for China, if winning gold medals was the objective. It would take a miracle for Beijing to repeat its glory at the 2008 summer Games in which Chinese athletes won 51 gold medals, and the US a distant 36. In fact, all the medals Chinese athletes have won in the winter Olympic Games from 1980 to last year’s Sochi Games add up to 51, the same number of the gold it won in 2008.

Despite this, the 2022 Games are likely to be more important to both the Chinese and sport in the country than the 2008 Olympic Games.

Moving from politics to sport

The 2008 Games were a great success for China, but it was a game of pure politics, both domestic and international. The Chinese government was motivated to use the Games as a coming-out party, proving the Chinese could compete at the highest level both in the sports arena and other fields. Nationalism reached a new peak at the 2008 Games. For its second games, China might develop a calm mindset of “been there, done that”. This time around the Chinese have less to prove and can therefore enjoy the games more, with a sharper focus on the sport.

If the first games were a coming-out party for the nation, the second games will be a chance to introduce the world to a truly open and prosperous China and cosmopolitan Chinese.

While economics was not a consideration for Beijing’s first Olympic Games which were estimated to have cost at least US$40 billion, China’s slowing economy could now benefit from the stimulus an Olympic Games can deliver. No-one knows yet how much the Games will contribute to China’s overall economy, but it will help the Chinese government create a megacity or “megaregion” (Jing-Jin-Ji in Chinese) as Beijing expands its functions to surrounding areas including Zhangjiaokou where many events of the winter Games will take place.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will be there to declare the opening of the 2022 Olympic Games. He is determined to achieve the Chinese dream, and sports remain a very important part of the dream. Xi should try to use the 2022 Games to demonstrate how Chinese people have achieved their dreams, rather than emphasise the communist party’s achievement.