Beijing Olympics: the end of the Games locked in their bubble



China brilliantly succeeded in its Games, which ended on Sunday February 20, in sporting terms, ranking third nation against sixteenth place four years ago. But she knew she was being scrutinized on a completely different level: her management of the pandemic, as she never ceased to praise her “zero Covid” strategy. Here too, the results are positive, if we refer to the strict health plan.

→ REPORT. Beijing Olympics: daunting conditions to finish the Games

Under the threat of the Omicron variant, the challenge of maintaining the Beijing Winter Games was colossal. In one month, the nearly 70,000 participants (athletes and their teams, members of delegations, journalists, etc.) underwent almost 2 million PCR tests. Only 172 positive cases were detected in the ” closed loop “, this watertight sanitary bubble from start to finish.

Upstream, everyone was tested on arrival at the airport. Assessment: 265 positive cases. Each infected person was placed in quarantine. The organizers even allowed a few guests to attend the events. The Middle Kingdom has managed to confine the foreign participants and the 20,000 volunteers to a sort of state within a state, where the virus does not or almost does not exist.

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But at what cost ? Fenced sites, police roadblocks, video surveillance everywhere, search at the exit of certain hotels, ban on walking to go from one site to another… The daily life of the protagonists of the Games was controlled, and freedoms seriously curtailed. At the end of the Games, everyone must leave the territory, without ever leaving the bubble, unlike the Tokyo Games, also maintained despite the virus. Chinese volunteers must self-isolate for a few days before they can return home. Or wait until the end of the Paralympic Games (March 4 to 13), for those who will officiate there.

→ CHRONICLE. Beijing Olympics: journalists under close surveillance

This leaden screed has also hovered over the field of political expression. Almost no athlete has taken advantage of the opportunities offered by the recent changes to Article 50 of the Olympic Charter, which allows people to express themselves on political issues before the start of the events or in front of the press, under very strict conditions. even restricted.

A Ukrainian athlete held up a small sign “No war in Ukraine”, Friday February 11. But the first to break the silence about the host country did so at the very end of the Games, after the ski half-pipe final: “When there are human rights atrocities in the country and a bad stance on LGBT rights, this must be taken into account by the IOC (International Olympic Committee, editor’s note) »argued the British skier Gus Kenworthy, Saturday, February 19.

Chinese threat of sanctions

Is it the Chinese threat of sanctions that weighed? The organizers indeed warned the athletes just before the Games: “Any speech or behavior contrary to the Olympic spirit and Chinese laws and regulations” would be punishable, they said.

→ ANALYSIS. The Beijing Olympics, between health threat and political controversy

While insisting that the Games should not be political, a spokesperson for the organizing committee nevertheless qualified “lies” accusations of forced labor and confinement of Uyghurs in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, during a press conference Thursday, February 17. This earned a call to order from the IOC. But if criticism has flourished around the world on the question of human rights, but also on the use of artificial snow (these Games were the first to depend entirely on it) the interior of the bubble has not known real hitch.

The smiles of the volunteers

The athletes interviewed say they are very satisfied with the welcome, as well as the quality of the infrastructure, sometimes planted in unusual settings, such as the Bald Mountains of Yanqing (alpine skiing) or a former wasteland steel area (Big Air).

All salute the hospitality of the volunteers. “It made me think of the nursery rhyme ‘thus do the little puppets do'”laughs cross-country skier Jules Lapierre, mimicking the greetings that volunteers send to athletes every day. “They are always smiling, and very happy that we are there”he rejoices. “They are all camouflaged in their jumpsuits but they were really adorable”, abounds the skier Terence Tchiknavorian.

→ CHRONICLE. Beijing Olympics: the sacrifices of Chinese volunteers

Covid fears quickly dissipated. “The arrival was very anxiety-provoking, there were so many tests, documents to fill out, tracks flag bearer Kevin Rolland.But once in the village, we are still quite protected from all that. » Little room, however, for lightness: “There isn’t really a meeting place, we are in our room, we go out to eat, and we don’t stay outside because it’s too cold”depicts the freestyle skier. “We didn’t see anything around, it was still a bit of a prison. For running, we went around in circles in the village”adds Jules Lapierre.

Heading to Europe

After three Games in Asia (PyeongChang, Tokyo, Beijing), we are now heading for Europe. Paris 2024 of course, but also Milan Cortina 2026, which took up the torch on Sunday February 20, during the closing ceremony in Beijing.

These Winter Games should be very different from those which have just ended. Because northern Italy has several mythical places on the circuit, which athletes know well: Antholz Anterselva for biathlon, Val di Fiemme for cross-country skiing, the slopes of Cortina d’Ampezzo and Bormio for alpine … And because Cortina has already hosted the Games, in 1956. “A lot of sites can be reused, said Giovanni Malago, president of the organizing committee, on Friday February 18 in Beijing. Of course, they will be upgraded with today’s technologies. »

If the organizers hope not to have to deal with the Covid, they know that they will have to respond to the challenge of geographical fragmentation. Milan, where the opening ceremony and the ice events will be held, is 200 km from Bormio and 400 km from Cortina. “Our biggest challenge will be to offer optimal transport logistics on this territory of 22,000 km2, predicts Giovanni Malago. This will be the guarantee of success. »

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