Sports Has a Message for Politics
Ambassador Dai Qingli Contributed an Article to the Tribune
21 February 2022
After 16 days of spectacular sporting events, the Beijing Winter Olympics has drawn to a successful close. During his speech at the closing ceremony, Mr. Thomas Bach, Chairman of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) spoke in Chinese four times to express his satisfaction with a “truly exceptional” Olympics.
For the nearly 3,000 athletes from 91 countries and their teams, for the 20,000 volunteers, and hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide, Beijing 2022 has been a memorable journey.
Chinese athletes have done well at the Games. For the first time, China rose to third place on the gold medal tally in the Winter Olympics. Yet, the more important and lasting legacy of these Games has been a surge in enthusiasm for ice and snow sports in China. President Xi Jinping’s vision of involving 300 million people in these sports and promoting leap-frogging progress is becoming reality.
Success of Winter Olympics 2022 has made Beijing a “twin” Olympic city, the first ever in the world to have hosted both a summer and winter Olympics.
While the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008 dazzled the world with its massive, breath-taking showcase of China’s history and culture, the opening of the 2022 Winter Olympics highlighted peace, unity and common humanity in a world ravaged by an unrelenting pandemic.
Yet again in Beijing, China has delivered what it promised to the world: a simple, safe and splendid Olympic Games.
With only one fifth of the performers in the opening of the summer games and with the lowest budget in Winter Olympic history for 20 years, the Beijing Winter Olympics has sought to underscore a simple, human touch.
At the opening ceremony, the absence of world-famous singers or actors was not felt. The dancing, waving volunteers made the athletes who paraded into the stadium truly welcome. The video of a cute 11-month-old toddler who couldn’t even walk but could skate like he was born into this sport melted the hearts of countless viewers. Children from a remote, mountainous community in Northern China, who learned the song in four weeks’ time, performed the Olympic anthem in Greek.
As the centerpiece of the opening ceremony, the snowflake-shaped placards with the names of participating delegations converged to form a giant snowflake aesthetic symbolizing countries coming together in unity.
For viewers who saw images of a former gymnast flying mid-air to light the gigantic main torch during the 2008 games, this torch-lighting ceremony would be a bit underwhelming. The torchbearers simply put the relay torch at the center of the giant snowflake. This was an energy saving move considering the 5,000 cubic meters of gas that the main torch in 2008 burned per hour.
Every effort is made to reflect China’s commitment to green development. For the first time in Olympic history, Beijing achieved 100 percent green electricity supply from solar and wind for all venues. Enormous research went into making the torch used in the under-water torch-relay between two robots smokeless and pollution-free.
Beijing introduced independently developed technologies such as carbon dioxide transcritical direct cooling ice machine system that has close to zero emissions and more efficient snow-making and storage techniques.
Sci-tech innovations such as a super large 8K ultra-high-definition ground display system was used to provide breathtaking visual effects.
One of the biggest favorites for reporters had to be the “smart canteen”, where robot chefs made Chinese and Western food and drinks from fried rice to hamburgers and cocktails. Journalists could order from their cell phones and have the meals delivered to their tables through a computer-controlled “sky track” embedded in the ceiling. A total of 678 different dishes were served, one third of which were Chinese. At the peak times, hundreds of kilograms of Jiaozi or dumplings were consumed daily. Many athletes happily shared photos of their favorite food on social media.
Stringent pandemic control measures jointly formulated by the IOC and the Beijing Organizing Committee were enforced to protect the athletes and everyone else in the closed-loop from infection.
Yet crowning it all has to be the performance of athletes themselves. Beijing has left an unforgettable sporting legacy. 18-year-old Eileen Gu, born to an American father and Chinese mother, grew up in the US but has chosen to compete on behalf of China since 2019. Claiming 3 medals with big air and halfpipe gold, and slopestyle silver, she became an inspiration for sports fans across China.
Eileen’s childhood pal Su Yiming, who just turned 18 on Feb 18th, became China’s youngest Winter Olympic champion with a gold in men’s big air. And China’s figure skating pair won the gold medal after 15 years of hard work overcoming numerous injuries and disappointments.
The less fortunate Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu, who attempted and failed in the quadruple axel, and US snowboarding legend Shaun White, who fell down at the final ride of his farewell competition, won loud cheers from the spectators.
Another big story was about a Chinese snowboarder, who quit his job at a bakery to start his solo Olympic journey. Although he failed to qualify for the Games, he never regretted his decision.
There were also 39 athletes from 10 Latin American and Caribbean countries, a record number for this region. Even Haiti sent its athlete.
All these athletes, who challenged human capacity to the limits, are the real heroes of the Beijing Olympics. Even those, who did not fulfil their dreams, never fail to uplift us. And the scenes of athletes and coaches from different countries cheering for, congratulating and comforting each other brought tears to many eyes.
Beyond the closed-loop in Beijing, global geopolitics was still fast evolving. An issue was made out of the absence of some politicians at the Beijing Games. And there was persistent concern about the situation in Ukraine.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China’s GDP was only one third of that of America’s, while now it’s 77%. China-US relations have also gone from “summer” to “winter” during this time. As a former British minister recently said, the core of the problem in many ways is an inability to get used to the basic fact (of China’s rise), and to adapt to it.
Not surprisingly, there has been jarring voices to make the Beijing Olympics a target of attack against China. Some used issues such as human rights to slander China. Others even tried to draw some connection between the Winter Olympics and the situation in Ukraine by distorting China’s position.
Like the CARICOM, China calls for respecting the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine. Like CARICOM, China supports a peaceful and negotiated solution. We call on all parties to honor their responsibilities and work to preserve peace, rather than playing up tension and spreading panic.
For the Beijing Olympics, no amount of pathetic side-tracking by a few has either stole the show from the athletes or dented the joy and excitement brought by sports, which is far too powerful to be made subservient to an unjust political agenda.
“It’s their loss, they are never going to win the Olympics”, said Eileen Gu of those who vehemently denounced her “betrayal” of the country who raised and trained her, “Sports is a way to unite people not to divide people. My mission is to use sports as a force for unity, as a form to foster interconnection between countries, not to use it as a divisive force. That benefits everyone.”
This 18-year-old girl has something serious for those politicians and commentators. If we want to make our world a better place in the post-covid era, we’d better heed her message.