Winter Olympics kick off in China

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games will begin with an opening ceremony at 8 pm local time on Friday evening, however the stands will remain almost empty due to strict coronavirus protocols. Most of the state representatives sitting in the VIP box will be from authoritarian countries - with Putin as the most prominent guest. Europe's press discusses to what extent these Games mark a turning point.

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Les Echos (FR) /

A country brimming with self-confidence

Les Echos' China and Japan correspondents Yann Rousseau and Frédéric Schaeffer compare today's Beijing with the Beijing of the 2008 Summer Games:

“It is a powerful China that is showing an increasingly visible self-confidence to the rest of the world. Its GDP has tripled since 2008 and the disposable income of households has increased sevenfold. With a robot on Mars and the construction of a space station, China is anchoring its power in space, too. It cares nothing for international law when it comes to expanding its military power in the South China Sea. ... Today China believes it doesn't need any lessons from anyone and shows off its model of government to the rest of the world.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Autocracies should not host the Games

The Olympic Games in China will also be a disappointment for athletes, Eesti Päevaleht fears:

“These Olympics will be special, and probably not in a positive sense. As far as sport is concerned, the Beijing Games will not succeed - too many athletes will stay away from the competition because they tested positive or were in contact with people who did. On the positive side, the political boycotts will not thin out the ranks of athletes any further. Diplomatic boycotts are a good solution - with athletes being allowed to participate while heads of state stay away over human rights abuses. It would be even better if autocracies that are dangerous to their own citizens or other countries were not allowed to host the Games.”

Večer (SI) /

Leave sport to the athletes

Večer finds the diplomatic boycott of the Games by the US, UK, Australia, Canada and others wrong:

“The most populous country in the world is organising the current Winter Olympics, as it did with the Summer Olympics in 2008, to demonstrate its economic renaissance and to improve its tarnished image in the world. Now the part of the world that calls itself democratic has at least partially ruined this wonderful plan for China. But countries that have announced a diplomatic boycott are violating human rights, even if not as systematically as in the case of the Uighurs and Tibetans. Politicians, leave sport to the athletes. They already have enough problems with health dilemmas, they don't need to solve the world's problems on top of all that.”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

One last extravagant spectacle

The Beijing Olympics could well mark the end of an era, La Libre Belgique believes:

“The excesses must have finally touched the gods on the Olympus of sport, because they now tend to make certain moral demands on the venues. At least that's the impression one gets looking at how the next Olympic cities will be selected. ... Provided, of course, that there are enough good candidates. ... To achieve this, the Games must become more affordable and the spiralling excesses must come to an end. Certainly, the spectacle and business aspects will suffer. But sport will benefit, of that we can be sure. So will the promotion of democracy and the defence of human rights.”

Tageblatt (LU) /

A crime against nature

The Tageblatt criticises the mega-event as a damaging game with nature:

“Ski slopes with artificial snow have been created in one of the driest and windiest areas of China. The water is pumped onto the mountains from 60 kilometres away. China has snow and ski resorts in the north, but for the sake of prestige the Games are being held in Beijing, making it the first city to host both summer and winter Games. ... For all the facilities, the nature reserve was reduced in size without any qualms. Can one really believe that [Olympic Committee founder] Pierre de Coubertin thought the Olympics, the 'meeting of the world's youth' would develop in this way?”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

China is not a normal state

The conditions at the venue of the Winter Olympics could not be worse, complains the Wiener Zeitung:

“Despite the Covid pandemic (wasn't there something to do with China there?) they will now go ahead. Because the authorities want it that way, and no one else is asked for their opinion. The Games are also casting their shadow in journalism. ... Correspondents are not adequately informed, or are not even being admitted. Visa refusals, surveillance, intimidation and harassment are the order of the day. ... None of this surprises us, it's true. But it cannot be emphasised enough: China is by no means a normal state with normal rules, even if international sports organisations don't seem to care much about that.”

Primorske novice (SI) /

Games without the Olympic spirit

In the hope that Covid-19 will not spread among Olympians, Beijing has partially isolated very large areas. This deprives the participants of the true Olympic experience, remarks Primorske novice:

“Over the next two weeks, we will once again be able to follow the sporting highlights directly from the other side of the world, celebrating heroes old and new. But the participants of this year's Olympic Games will enjoy everything less than their predecessors at previous Olympics. The athletes will compete against one another without direct contact, without spectators from all over the world, in short, without the Olympic spirit.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Beijing's new world

The Olympic Games are the reflection of a new, anti-Western world with Beijing at its centre, Corriere della Sera explains:

“The Russian leader will almost certainly respect the Olympic truce and refrain from military action in Ukraine - so if Europe and the United States can buy time it is because of the Chinese schedule. A sign that the centre of the world has shifted. ... Once the Olympic truce is over, Putin knows he has a refuge. ... China and Russia are building an alternative financial system to the dollar. The use of the Chinese renminbi continues to grow. ... Other countries, from Iran to Venezuela, have already shown that they can cushion the impact of US sanctions.”