China came of age as an Olympic power when it hosted the spectacular Beijing 2008, a display of the unlimited resources and political will some say are essential to its bid for the 2022 Winter Games.
The capital emerged as the frontrunner for 2022 — which would make it the first city ever to host both summer and winter Olympics — after a string of European cities withdrew last year citing public concerns over costs, leaving it facing off against only the Kazakh city of Almaty.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia spent more than $51 billion on the last winter games in Sochi, and while democratic South Korea will host the next, there are human rights concerns over both candidates for 2022.
“The dictatorship is now the only direction to go,” said Xu Guoqi, author of “Olympic Dreams: China and Sports 1895-2008”.
“This is because the cost has been a concern for many, many hosts in the past, so now European countries don’t want to invest — except Russia.”
The International Olympic Committee decides between them on Friday, after Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow in Poland and Lviv in Ukraine all backed out because of budget worries.
Before Oslo withdrew in October, Norwegian politicians said it was “critical” that democratic countries who “respect human rights” should want to stage the Olympics.
But the Norwegian government balked at the expected $5.5 billion cost, even after a string of cost-saving proposals, including making IOC members pay for their own accommodation during the event.
China has no such concerns, said Susan Brownell, a visiting professor at Heidelberg University’s Institute of Sinology.
“It looks to me that the cost of the Winter Games is paltry for the Chinese government,” she said.
– Reusing venues –
Brownell said some of China’s Olympic costs would come from its national sports lottery, which distributed $7.24 billion in 2014 — almost twice as much as Beijing’s entire 2022 budget of $3.9 billion.
The bid team says it is keeping the budget down by using 11 venues from 2008 — a Games which was estimated to have cost more than $40 billion — including the Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, and the Water Cube aquatics centre for curling.
Ice sports would take place in central Beijing, alpine skiing, bobsleigh, skeleton and luge would be held in Yanqing in the capital’s suburbs, and Zhangjiakou, around 200 kilometres away, would host the rest.
The plan makes the bid one of the most geographically spread-out proposals for a winter Games, making transport links crucial — and some believe its real costs are far higher, as the budget for the event does not incorporate many infrastructure improvements.
Chief among them is a high-speed rail line already under construction between Beijing and Zhangjiakou, which will cut travel times between them from more than three hours to a mere 50 minutes. Chinese state media estimated its cost at $5 billion.
China will still have to build many top-class winter sports facilities from scratch, including the country’s first competitive bobsleigh track, and an Olympic village and Nordic skiing centre in a currently barren and windswept landscape.
Wang Hui, the bid’s chief spokesperson, told AFP that encouraging 300 million Chinese into winter sports was a key aim.
“We want to show our country that outdoor physical fitness is not something that begins in April and ends in October,” she said.
– ‘Joyful rendezvous’ –
Beijing’s bid is officially labelled a “Joyful rendezvous upon pure ice and snow”, and organisers say that 88 percent of respondents in Beijing supported it in an independent telephone poll for the IOC, rising to 92 percent for the country as a whole.
The bid website states: “No organised activities against the bid for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games have been found.”
But Xu, a history professor at Hong Kong University, said it was intended to promote the ruling Communist Party’s legitimacy.
“From a government perspective, they still need to legitimise their political base,” he said. “So they need to hold a big event to make Chinese people feel good.”
The 2008 Games were an unmistakable statement of Beijing’s role on the global stage, but Brownell said the motives for the 2022 bid were more probably rooted in inter-regional rivalry.
Chinese state media announced China’s bid in early November 2013, just two months after the Japanese capital Tokyo won the right to host its second Summer Olympics in 2020.
They will follow the 2018 winter event in South Korea’s Pyeongchang.
“China wants to keep up with them in the number of Olympics hosted, and would no doubt prefer to surpass them if possible,” said Brownell, author of “Beijing’s Games, what the Olympics means to China”.
The bid team, however, said Beijing 2022 had nothing to do with propaganda.
“This is not about winning gold medals, or staging a ‘coming out party’ for our country for the world to see; that was what 2008 was for,” said spokeswoman Wang.
“This time, we are doing it for the Chinese people.” – Agence France-Presse