Yearender: Beijing 2022 wades through challenges in pandemic-disrupted year

BEIJING, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) — If we should choose key words for the year 2020 which is finally coming to an end, “COVID-19” is definitely one of them.

The coronavirus pandemic decimated the international sporting calendar and forced a historic first postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, as well as bringing challenges and difficulties to preparations for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

Adjusting accordingly with flexible and innovative measures, the Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee (BOCOG), in a joint effort with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Paralympic Committee (IPC), International Winter Sports Federations (IFs) and other stakeholders, managed to keep preparations well on track towards honoring its promise five years ago when the city was awarded the Games.

“Despite uncertainties brought about by COVID-19, we are confident and capable of hosting a successful Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games,” said BOCOG executive vice president Zhang Jiandong. “We are advancing towards our ultimate goal step by step and area by area.”

A key milestone is to be reached as all competition venues will be completed by the end of this year, despite twists and turns aplenty.

After being forced to stop temporarily by the COVID-19 outbreak, Beijing 2022 venue construction projects were among the first to resume after the pandemic was brought under control in China, with strict epidemic prevention and control measures in place.

At the National Alpine Skiing Center, workers’ body temperatures were taken and they wore masks every day. Offices, cafeteria, dormitories, and shuttle buses were disinfected. Migrant workers who returned to Beijing were placed under quarantine as required.

But that didn’t mean that everything went as smoothly as if the pandemic had never happened.

“For example, the manufacturers of the equipment needed for venue construction are mainly based in hard-hit countries and regions, so the manufacturing, transportation and importing of the materials were all affected,” Zhang told the IOC Coordination Commission meeting in June, which had to go virtual itself due to health concerns and travel restrictions.

“Some overseas experts and technical personnel hired to install and commission the facilities and venue homologation faced difficulties coming to the sites,” he added.

Figuring out solutions on a case-by-case for the venues, negotiating with relevant authorities, keeping close communication with the IOC, IPC and other stakeholders, the Beijing 2022 organizers joined forces with construction and operation teams, technical experts and workers to make it possible.

The venues were to be geared up for test events, but those planned in the first quarter of next year were canceled due to the pandemic.

Instead, an adapted testing program will be introduced based on the needs of each individual federation to evaluate the venues and games operation for Beijing 2022.

In November, the National Sliding Center, which will host bobsleigh, skeleton and luge competitions during the Beijing Games, underwent successful pre-homologation test runs.

“We have seen an excellently prepared track and were impressed by the smooth and perfectly organized event which was held under strict hygiene measurements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was definitely the most impressive pre-homologation we have seen,” said International Bobsleigh &Skeleton Federation (IBSF) President Ivo Ferriani.

Subsequently, delegations from the International Skating Union, the World Curling Federation, the International Ski Federation and the International Biathlon Union also inspected eight Beijing 2022 competition venues of their respective sports.

“Technical preparations for the Games are going extremely well despite challenges in the test events program due to COVID-19-related restrictions,” the IOC noted in a declaration at the 9th Olympic Summit earlier this month.

Yet on-site tours were not always possible.

During the first virtual World Press Briefing (WPB) in the Olympic history, with a record 400+ participants, panorama pictures and 3D simulations were applied to make venues look real in a virtual world.

“The website that showed 360-degree panoramas of the competition sites, illustrating locations and capacities of photo positions, as well as the view from each of them, was unique and absolutely crucial in the current pandemic reality. It showed photographers exactly what to expect, even though they could not be there in Beijing for a venue tour. This was excellent and a first ever for a WPB,” said Julia Vynokurova, head of Media Operations for the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games.

Also going online were the release of the Sustainability Plan, the announcement of the color system and core graphics, the launch of a global appeal for the official 2022 medal, torch and apparel designs, the awarding of the first batch of promotional music, the updating of a barrier-free access guide, the release of the 7th edition of the competition schedule, the hosting of the National Olympic Committee/National Paralympic Committee Open Day Event, and multiple meetings with relevant parties.

“The progress is, really, the Chinese way, if I may say. You see the dynamism and the efficiency of the Chinese people behind these preparations and behind the organization. And you also see the great engagement when you see that more than 800,000 Chinese people have applied to become a volunteer,” IOC President Thomas Bach said ahead of the 500-day milestone in September.

Now the total number has surged to over 960,000 applicants from 168 countries and regions with more expected, as the online Beijing 2022 Volunteer Application Portal has been viewed more than 33 million times with 1.22 million users registered.

Also behind the Games are 38 corporate sponsors for Beijing 2022 as of December 15, which includes 11 official partners, 11 official sponsors, nine official exclusive suppliers and seven official suppliers.

A successful Games could not be possible without public support. According to a report by the Renmin University of China, although the pandemic forced half of those surveyed with winter sports experience to cancel their plans this past season, 150 million people have engaged at least once in winter sports from 2019 to 2020, half of China’s goal to have 300 million people familiar with the sport.

The report also showed that the amount of people keeping a close eye on Beijing 2022 news updates has increased steadily from 6.2 percent in 2018 to 10.4 percent in 2020. 70 percent of participants reported that they had paid attention to the Games over the past three years through different outlets.

“When you see the impressive engagement of the Chinese enterprises and the businesses supporting the Olympic Games. When you see the Chinese people really starting to play winter sports themselves, and to make their kids familiar with winter sports. When you see the infrastructure, which has been built and is under construction to accommodate these many, many Chinese people who wanted to practise winter sports. Then, you can only be impressed,” Bach said.

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