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Winter Olympics: What next?

Monday 26 February 2018

AS THE curtain falls on the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise at the University of Salford Business School looks at what may be to come in Beijing in four years.

Professor Chadwick said: “As the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing were modern China’s global coming-out party, and while President Xi’s desire to host football’s World Cup would confirm the country’s ascent to the world’s top-table, by comparison the reasons for staging the 2022 Winter Olympics are much less clear. Admittedly it is one of the world’s largest sport mega-events and is therefore consistent with China’s new found international muscularity, but it is less compelling and lacks the kudos of its summer counterpart leading one to ask why the country is doing this?

“Perhaps Beijing bid simply because it could, though two reasons could be: that China can afford it and others can’t; and/or that the country’s absence of democratic process makes event bidding much easier. A mixture of austerity and democracy now dictates that European bidding for mega-events has become an unpredictable business. Oslo had been one of three candidate cities competing for the right to host the 2022 Games; it eventually withdrew its bid citing economic and financial pressures. Otherwise, cities in Germany, Poland and Switzerland have, in recent years, held local referenda to determine whether event bids should be submitted. In each case, the public rejected the opportunity to bid. When Beijing secured the 2022 Games in 2015, its only opposition therefore was Kazhakstan’s Almaty.

“The official race for 2022 had closed in 2013 (the bid submission deadline), pre-dating Xi’s 2014 call for China’s sports industry to be a dominant global force by 2025. His vision, for a domestic sport economy worth $850 billion, has helped bring some legitimacy to China’s winter sports aspirations. Indeed, since then much of the country’s sports industry has re-oriented towards the likes of skiing and snowboarding. So much so that most public institutions (such as schools and universities) have actually been focused more on 2022 than winning the World Cup. Children are even being taught in schools how to ski as China scrambles to ensure that face is not lost when its athletes take to the slopes during the Games.

“The pressure is on China to deliver a successful event. Given the country’s continuing economic maturity, one assumes that paying for the Games will not be an issue. However, this needs to be set in the context of a nervous last couple of years during which government has been concerned to curb outward currency flows. This implies that contracts pertaining to the Olympics’ delivery are more likely to be awarded to domestic rather than foreign companies.

“Furthermore, faced with the prospect of spiralling hosting costs and consequent declining international interest in bidding for the winter Games, the IOC is currently encouraging host cities to be more restrained in their spending than has been the case in recent decades. Hence, we should not expect the ostentatiousness of Beijing 2008, especially as President Xi has recently been clamping down on extravagant ‘un-Chinese’ architecture. 

“Even so, upwards of US$9 billion has already been allocated to constructing a railway from the centre of Beijing to Zhangjiakou, where the 2022 Games will take place. The government has emphasised that this figure will not be factored into the event’s overall cost as the line was going to be built anyway. However, this seems somewhat disingenuous as Zhangjiakou is more than 250 kilometres away from the capital and is not currently a winter sports destination.

“As Russia did in Sochi, when the alpine facilities were some considerable distance away from the central Games venues, China seems determined to create something out of nothing for the winter Olympics. Aside from whatever political motives there are for doing this, there are some equally important economic and social reasons for it. Consistent with the country’s quest to become a major global sport industry player, becoming a sports tourism destination is important to the Chinese government.”

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Sam Wood

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