Sunday, May 26, 2024

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Beijing Olympics: Winter Games start amid Covid and boycotts

The most divided Olympic Games in decades gets under way in China on Friday as Beijing becomes the only city to host both the Summer and now the Winter Games. As well as tight Covid-19 controls, the Games are fraught with political tensions over allegations of human rights abuses and boycotts.

Most of the snow on the slopes where the Olympic events will take place is man-made. 

But inside an indoor rink where the icy climate is maintained by massive freezers at the side of the dome, six-year-old ice skater Yiyi doesn’t care how Beijing is making the Winter Games happen. 

She just can’t wait to see it. She wasn’t even born the first time the Olympics came to town. Now she’s inspired by it. 

“It’s very exhausting but she presses on,” her mum told me, after we’d watched her daughter in a lesson with a coach. “She won’t leave until she learns how to do all the moves. She doesn’t quit.”

But this is as close to the action as she is going to get.

Yiyi and her mum can’t go to any of the events. The Winter Olympics is happening in Beijing, but almost everyone here is excluded from it. 

China is in the middle of a renewed effort to maintain “zero Covid”. 

So authorities have decided that no tickets will go on sale to the general public. Only members of the ruling Communist Party or staff from government-controlled companies are being invited, and even they have to abide by strict testing and restrictions. 

As Yiyi’s mum was telling me how disappointed she was that they could only watch the Games on TV, the six-year-old jumped in, making sure I knew that she was definitely going to be watching.

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