Beijing has won the battle to host the 2022 Winter Olympics after the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, made a last-minute vow to lay on a “fantastic, extraordinary and excellent” event. Beijing defeated its rival Almaty in Kazakhstan by 44 votes to 40, with one IOC member abstaining.
International Olympic Committee delegates handed the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic events to Beijing on Friday afternoon following a secret ballot in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“We are honoured and humbled by the International Olympic Committee’s decision to award Beijing the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games,” Beijing’s bid committee said in a statement. “It is with an incredible sense of excitement that we express our thanks to the IOC and the wider Olympic movement. Just as with the Beijing 2008 Summer Games, the Olympic family has put its faith in Beijing again to deliver the athlete-centred, sustainable and economical Games we have promised.
“This will be a memorable event at the foot of the Great Wall for the whole Olympic family, the athletes and the spectators that will further enhance the tremendous potential to grow winter sports in our country, in Asia and around the world. We would like to congratulate Almaty 2022 for their campaign. We wish to thank once again all the Chinese people and people around the world who have supported Beijing 2022 in this extraordinary bid journey.”
Earlier, the president Xi threw his weight behind China’s bid, promising the “strongest support” for the Beijing Games in a one-minute video address to the IOC delegates.
A Beijing Olympics would “boost exchanges and mutual understanding between the Chinese and other civilisations of the world,” Xi said. “The Chinese people are looking forward to this opportunity. Let me assure you that if you choose Beijing the Chinese people will present to the world a fantastic, extraordinary and excellent Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.”
Beijing’s mayor, Wang Anshun, vowed to deliver “Games that are joyful and harmonious, Games that are safe and reliable”.
The 2022 Beijing Winter Games will in fact be split between three Olympic sites: one in the city of Zhangjiakou, 125 miles from Beijing in the Hebei province, another in Yanqing, a mountainous region to Beijing’s north-west, and a third in China’s sprawling capital itself.
A key component of Beijing’s winning bid was its pledge to tackle the toxic air pollution that often enshrouds the city. Beijing’s mayor told IOC delegates huge steps had been taken since his city hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, with one million high-emissions vehicles forced from its roads. “All our efforts are moving Beijing towards a clean energy future,” Wang said.
Chinese officials have also dismissed concerns over a dearth of natural snowfall in the region around Beijing. Almaty’s campaign slogan – “Keeping it real” – was a not-so-subtle swipe at China’s promise to compensate with artificial snow. “Real snow, real winter ambience, real winter Games,” boasted a promotional video for Almaty 2022.
But Liu Peng, the president of the Chinese Olympic Committee, batted away Kazakhstan’s provocations. “Ski resorts have been operating in Zhangjiakou for decades,” he said on Friday. “Beijing 2022 will build on its existing snow-making capability to supplement natural snow fall.”
Nor was the lack of a winter sports culture in China an issue. Chinese officials have said they hope the Beijing Winter Olympics will ignite “a winter sports passion” that will help create a £535m industry in China by 2025.
“Winter sports fever is sweeping our nation,” claimed Liu, adding that more than one million Chinese teenagers were now ice skating regularly. “Twenty years ago China had less than 10 ski resorts. We now have more than 500.”
In 2001, Beijing’s selection as the host city for the 2008 Summer Olympics sparked an international outcry amid criticism of China’s human rights record. In the runup to Friday’s vote activists had again called on the IOC to reject Beijing’s bid in response to a “human rights crisis” they believe is under way in China.
Of greater concern to environmentalists than a two-week party in 2022 is the broader attempt to launch China’s own domestic ski industry. The sport is still very much in its infancy: on an average winter weekend most of the skiiers sliding down the fake snow at Zhangjiakou are beginners. It is also too expensive for most Chinese. Yet for months airports around the country, including in the balmy south, have been attempting to flog winter sports to Chinese consumers. It may also now persuade a few of them to practice rather hard.