Beijing opens Winter Olympics against backdrop of politics and pandemic

sport
Beijing Opens Winter Olympics Against Backdrop Of Politics And Pandemic Beijing Opens Winter Olympics Against Backdrop Of Politics And Pandemic
Russian President Vladimir Putin was present, albeit captured apparently asleep on camera when the Ukrainian delegation entered the stadium. Photo: PA
Share this article

By Mark Staniforth, PA Olympics Correspondent, Beijing

Fourteen years ago in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, 90,000 fans roared Usain Bolt down the home straight to shatter the men’s 100 metres world record and instantly establish one of the Olympic Games’ most indelible images.

On Saturday night in the Chinese capital, memories of Bolt’s 9.69 super-charge remained fresh in the memory, but the masked officials and plunging temperatures told a different story, of a Games that threatens to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Politics and a pandemic have blighted the build-up to the first Winter Games to be staged in the same city as its summer counterpart, albeit a forbidden one, consigned to a closed-loop bubble sealed off by security agents in hazmat suits.

Britain’s flag bearers Dave Ryding and Eve Muirhead lead the team out during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games (Andrew Milligan/PA Images).

For all the rules banning regular ticket sales, the Bird’s Nest was roughly half full of quarantined spectators for a constricted ceremony, clocking in at just over two hours, making it the shortest Olympic opening event for more than 40 years.

Advertisement

“Simple, safe, wonderful” was the message, and the ceremony certainly succeeded as a colourful artistic spectacle, an 11,600-square metre LED ice screen forming a basis to the spectacle that matched the millions of cubic tonnes of fake snow stockpiled on the pistes of Zhangjikou.

Chinese President Xi preceded a lavish firework display by declaring the Games open, before a low-key cauldron-lighting by two junior members of the current Chinese team.

Yet no amount of pomp can possibly extinguish the backdrop of allegations of genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, nor fears for press freedom that led many travelling delegations to pack burner phones along with their bobble hats.

Torch-bearers Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Zhao Jiawen light the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony (Andrew Milligan/PA Images).

Throw in the continued concerns over the well-being of tennis player Peng Shuai, and it was an occasion far removed from the lavish and welcoming jamboree that greeted the world’s best athletes in 2008.

A diplomatic boycott led to officials from many nations, including the UK and US, staying away, while Russian President Vladimir Putin was present, albeit captured apparently asleep on camera when the Ukrainian delegation entered the stadium.

Inevitably, an asterisk will be attached to all that transpires in the next two weeks as the Olympics faces its greatest challenge since the former International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage declared the establishment of the winter version as a “deplorable mistake”.

For all the athletes, there were others who will have watched the ceremony on a flickering TV screen inside a quarantine hotel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games (Andrew Milligan/PA Images).

Read More

Want us to email you top stories each lunch time?

Download our Apps
© BreakingNews.ie 2022, developed by Square1 and powered by PublisherPlus.com