Any mention of Winter Olympics brings to mind mighty, snow-covered mountains, skiers swooshing through mounds of white powdery snow and a winter wonderland as far as the eye can see. The images all have one thing in common: snow, and lots of it.
So when the IOC convened this year to pick the host for the 2022 Winter Olympics, Beijing seemed an impossible choice. The city does not have the vast snowy lands and the snowy winters that its contender Almaty, Kazakhstan, boasted of. The Kazakh city, in fact, capitalized on this very point and came up with its snarky "Keeping it Real" campaign.
But the decision, in the end, did favor Beijing, making it the first city ever to host both the Summer and Winter Games. Among the cheering, a question quickly emerged: How the heck will a no-snow city host the Olympics?
Beijing has no mountains or steep slopes to support the vital sports of skiing and snow-boarding. The authorities will move these sports to other regions. But even these areas, as BBC reports, record miserable levels of snowfall each year. One of the venues for snow-boarding, Yanqing, only has about 2 inches of snowfall each year.
China intends to generate tons of artificial snow for the games. But how easy will such a task be when the host city has been in the throes of a drought for some time now? Water will have to be diverted to Beijing from other cities, and the residents may have difficulty coping with even less water available. This doesn't go well with IOC's vision of promoting sustainable development.
China is undaunted: The authoritative state keen on presenting numbers to bolster its stance insists that 90% of Beijing residents are happy with this decision.
Weather isn't the only concern about China's second go-round hosting the Olympics. The country is increasingly open to foreign business, globalization and cultural exchanges. But China still has dismal record on freedom, especially its refusal to cut back on freedom of speech restrictions. Internet censorship has grown, and the country has not been able to deliver its promises of greater freedom.
Coupled with that is China's over-enthusiastic, over-anxious PR team that stops journalists from freely traveling and reporting on the Olympics. This happened in 2008 as well, and even then stories of entire towns forced to relocate and people stripped of property were well-documented. Imagine what reporters were banned from seeing.
Beijing won the 2022 Olympics hosting duties because of its prior experience. But there is a question that IOC needs to ask itself: Are the wonderfully coordinated, but extremely disciplined dances and tableaus really in keeping with its commitment to openness?