Thomas Bach praises the impact of the Beijing Games and defends its “neutrality”

February 3, 2022

On the eve of the opening of the Beijing Winter Games, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, tried to end the controversies regarding the event on Thursday, praising his “heritage” and defending his political neutrality.

“Today we can say that China is a winter sports country,” said the German leader when opening the 139th session of the Olympic instance, held behind closed doors in a palace in the Chinese capital due to drastic precautions against the health crisis. .

The statement may surprise many perplexed observers in the face of alpine ski slopes laid out in glacial but arid mountains, northwest of Beijing, with 100% artificial snow, appearing as a white zebra crossing stripe between sepia-colored slopes.

According to the German Olympic leader, the organizing country “has already written history, surpassing the goal of familiarizing 300 million of its citizens with snow and ice sports”, promising to “change the importance of winter sports forever”. .

According to the president of the organizing committee of Beijing-2022, Qi Cai, Chinese statistics speak of “346 million” casual practitioners of winter sports in October 2021, going “from small numbers in certain regions to spread throughout the world. country”.

– “Black clouds of politicization” –

The rise of Chinese skiing, measured by the dozens of resorts that are born, as well as urban indoor slopes, is a boon for foreign manufacturers of ski lifts and specialists in snow groomers or snow cannons.

According to the 2021 international report on mountain tourism by the Swiss expert Laurent Vanat, the number of skiers has stagnated for twenty years at around 400 million worldwide, with a decline in their traditional markets, making Asia a potential Eldorado for industrialists.

Thomas Bach also insisted on the environmental heritage of these Games, with the development of renewable energy to power the sites, despite concerns raised about the impact of artificial snowmaking on water resources.

Bach, on the other hand, made no allusion to the political tensions that have surrounded this edition for several months, with the diplomatic boycott decreed by the United States, Australia and Canada, among others.

These Games “have strong support from the international community,” said Thomas Bach, recalling the unanimous adoption of a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly decreeing the Olympic truce.

Since 2020, “we could already see the gloomy clouds of the growing politicization of sport settling on the horizon,” he said, estimating that he had preserved “the unifying mission of the Olympic Games” by avoiding any sports boycott.

– Criticism of FIFA –

“The world is looking at China and China is ready,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping, promising “safe and splendid Games”, accompanied by the “vigour, courage and fearlessness” of the Year of the Tiger that has just begun.

But three IOC members, breaking with the predictable ceremonial of an Olympic session, took the discussions outside of China, alarmed by FIFA’s plan to host its World Cup every two years.

A biennial World Cup, now held every four years since 1930 in the men’s category and 1991 in the women’s category, “could put the sport in danger” by competing with other competitions, warned Algerian Mustapha Berraf, a former basketball international and deputy.

“FIFA must commit to holding talks with the international sports community,” Serbian Nenad Lalovic asked, while South Korea’s Ruy Seung Min lamented “the risks of exhaustion or serious injury” for soccer players.

Thomas Bach acknowledged that he would have liked to “talk about it with the FIFA president (Luigi Infantino, also a member of the IOC), but it was not possible since he canceled his visit to Beijing two days ago.”

“If you agree, we are going to try to contact him, once again, and we are going to transfer these comments to him,” he added.

cfe / psr / rev