The Olympic contradiction

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The Olympic contradiction

The general public’s entry to the main stadium of the Beijing Winter Olympics is strictly controlled. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

The general public’s entry to the main stadium of the Beijing Winter Olympics is strictly controlled. [REUTERS/YONHAP]

The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The atmosphere of the Beijing Winter Olympics is bleak. On January 25, I visited the Olympic Main Stadium eight kilometers north of Tiananmen. A long, iron fence surrounds the stadium nicknamed the “Bird’s Nest.” Passersby can only view the stadium over the fence. People taking photographs from outside of the fence made it seem more dismal.

Water Cube, the venue for curling next to the main stadium, is also a “cake in the sky.” No tickets were sold for spectators. Nearby buildings were closed off early on, and major hotels around the stadium are only accessible by foreign guests or invited Chinese visitors. With the “closed-loop” system of separating athletes from locals, Beijing secured safety and lost festivity.

The only things that make me feel the Olympics are really happening are the signs on the designated Olympic roads. The first lanes on both sides of the road are dedicated for Olympic-related vehicles from 6 a.m. to midnight, but these lanes are completely empty. China’s CCTV Olympic channel is broadcasting 24 hours, but it is repeatedly showing videos of Chinese athletes winning gold medals in the past. It is impossible to see athletes at the Beijing Capital International Airport, the only gateway for teams to enter. They will fly in on chartered flights, go through separate disease control facilities and head straight to their lodgings. (They are not allowed to visit anywhere other than the stadiums.)

But Covid-19 has not disappeared. Cumulative positive cases in Beijing are around 70, but the intensity of control is similar to the first outbreak of the coronavirus in 2019. Residents in the city of Sanhe near Beijing haven’t been able to go to work for a few days. After three positive cases were confirmed near the city, all residents of the apartments were locked up.

In the apartment where I live, all residents were ordered to get a nucleic acid test, or a PCR test. As a resident with a “close contact” is living in the building, all residents had to get tested. Residents are allowed to enter their homes after getting two negative results for two days in a row, 24 hours apart. Nowadays, you need a nucleic acid test result even to buy cold medicine.

Will things change after the Games begin? In a World Economic Forum speech on January 17, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the goal of the Beijing Winter Olympics was “simple, safe and colorful.” The clear and condensed message is the keyword to understand China’s stance on the Olympics. But how can a simple, safe yet colorful Olympic Games be held? It is the reality of the Beijing Olympics’ contradiction. 

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