Evaluation: The Olympics was successful inside China. And that is the viewers Beijing cares about

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However the previous two weeks have additionally proven the world two very completely different Video games: For China, Beijing 2022 was a convincing success that exceeded all expectations. To the remainder of the world, it remained a deeply polarizing occasion, that projected not solely China’s rising energy but in addition its rising assertiveness, able to defy and problem its critics.

In its meticulously managed “closed loop,” the ever-present face masks, infinite spraying of disinfectant and rigorous every day testing have paid-off. Infections introduced into the nation had been swiftly recognized and contained, permitting the Video games to run largely freed from Covid even because the Omicron variant raged world wide.
Within the medal tables, Crew China claimed 9 golds and a complete of 15 medals, delivering its finest ever consequence at a Winter Olympics — and rating above the US. The stellar performances of its new Olympic stars — from freeski sensation Eileen Gu to snowboard prodigy Su Yiming — captivated followers within the stands and throughout the nation, drawing an outpouring of delight.
By Wednesday, nearly 600 million people — or 40% of the Chinese language inhabitants — had tuned in to look at the Video games on tv in China, in line with the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC). And whereas US viewing figures have been markedly down in comparison with earlier Olympics, the increase in Chinese language audiences will seemingly make Beijing 2022 among the many most watched Winter Video games in historical past.
Even the official mascot Bing Dwen Dwen, a panda sporting an ice shell, turned out to be a home success. Having been principally ignored for greater than two years because it was first unveiled, the chubby bear soared in popularity in the course of the Video games, routinely trending on Chinese language social media. At memento shops inside and out of doors the bubble, folks queued for hours — typically in biting chilly — to take residence plush toy replicas.

And for the ruling Communist Get together and its supreme chief Xi Jinping, it’s the home viewers that issues probably the most. Xi personally backed Beijing’s bid to host these Video games, and made a flurry of visits to the ice rinks and snow slopes to examine preparation work. The success of the Video games current Xi with a second of nationwide unity as he gears up for an unprecedented third time period in energy this fall.

However for the Chinese language authorities, a part of the home success additionally comes from the avoidance of main political scandal or embarrassment. Whereas the doping saga surrounding a teenage Russian determine skater has forged a shadow over the Olympics, it was downplayed inside China. The identical was true of criticism of the Video games normally, most of which was censored and blocked.
Beijing 2022's official mascot Bing Dwen Dwen has become a breakout star at these Games.
Early within the Video games, many athletes from Western international locations had been stunned by the stringent Covid restrictions they met upon arrival in Beijing. Some had been positioned in isolation for weeks after testing constructive, whereas others complained in regards to the bland meals served in quarantine. However their criticism — together with an emotional plea for assist from a Belgian athlete — went wholly unreported inside China.

As an alternative, Chinese language state media avidly shared social media movies, posts and feedback from athletes that portrayed their life contained in the Olympic village in a constructive mild, praising the meals, the Covid measures and the pleasant volunteers.

And far to the reduction of presidency officers in Beijing, not a single athlete or Olympic attendee tried to make use of the occasion to publicly protest China’s human rights report — a hot-button concern within the lead-up to the Olympics (although some have expressed vital views).

In December, the US and its allies declared a diplomatic boycott of Video games over China’s crackdown on Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang — which Washington has labeled a genocide. However aside from the notable absence of Western leaders on the opening ceremony, the affect of the boycott was seldom felt on the bottom.

“You may’t write tales about individuals who aren’t in Beijing — that is the issue with the diplomatic boycott. There isn’t any story as soon as the Video games begin,” stated Susan Brownell, an knowledgeable on Chinese language sports activities and the Olympic Video games on the College of Missouri-St. Louis.

“I’ve predicted initially that the political points would fade into the background and the sports activities would take the headlines, and that may be the reminiscence that may be left, a minimum of for the overall viewers. I feel that has largely occurred,” added Brownell.

Occurring the offensive

However Beijing wasn’t simply ready for the political controversies to fade. It has gone on the offensive, utilizing the Video games to push its personal political message and hit again at criticism — regardless of having repeatedly derided Western governments for “politicizing” the Olympics.

Because the torch relay received underway proper earlier than the Video games, state media reported a Chinese language soldier who was concerned in a lethal border conflict with Indian troops was among the many chosen few to hold the Olympic flame. The report sparked quick outrage in India, prompting New Delhi to affix the US-led diplomatic boycott.

The following day, in a symbolic finish to the extremely choreographed opening ceremony, Chinese language organizers chose Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a little-known Uyghur cross-country skier, to ship the flame to the Olympic cauldron. (Her title may be written as Dilnigar Ilhamjan.) To many exterior of China, it was seen as a deliberate try by Beijing to confront critics over its remedy of the Uyghurs.
Torch bearers Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Jiawen Zhao of Team China hold the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony on February 4.
Then there got here the high-profile look of Peng Shuai, a Chinese language tennis star and three-time Olympian who has been on the middle of world concern after she was silenced for accusing a former prime Communist Get together chief of sexual assault.
At these Video games, Peng met IOC President Thomas Bach for dinner, gave a sit-down interview to French sport information web site L’Equipe — throughout which she denied she ever accused anybody of sexual assault or disappeared from the general public eye — and was seen within the stands watching Crew China compete in occasions like curling, determine skating and freestyle snowboarding.

Her flurry of actions made headlines world wide — and like her earlier public appearances, they did not quell broader issues about her freedoms. Inside China, nevertheless, none of that was reported by state media or shared on social media, the place Peng’s title stays censored.

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai looks on during the Women's Freestyle Skiing Freeski Big Air Final on February 8.

And because the Olympics approached its finish, the political messaging received extra pugnacious.

At a press convention Thursday, Yan Jiarong, a spokesperson for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympics Video games (BOCOG), was requested whether or not Taiwan’s delegation would seem on the closing ceremony Sunday.

Yan, a former Chinese language consultant to the United Nations, took the chance to say China sovereignty claims over the self-ruling democracy. “What I need to say is that there’s just one China on the earth. Taiwan is an indivisible a part of China,” she stated.

She additionally jumped in on CNN’s query about whether or not the Olympics uniforms had been made by pressured labor in Xinjiang, calling accusations of pressured labor “a lie made up by forces with ulterior motives.”

Yan’s feedback — which seemed to be an outright violation of Olympic guidelines about political neutrality — prompted a uncommon rebuke from Bach, the IOC president.

“We had been in contact with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Video games (BOCOG) instantly after this press convention,” Bach stated, “and each organizations, BOCOG and the IOC, have restated the unequivocal dedication to stay politically impartial as it’s required by the Olympic constitution.”

Whereas the Chinese language authorities might even see these combative remarks as a propaganda victory, for a lot of within the worldwide viewers, they solely function a reminder of how politically fraught these Video games are, regardless of the organizational success and sporting achievements.

“The Video games as a standalone occasion have been run very nicely, and China did nicely. The group has been phenomenal,” stated Mark Dreyer, the founding father of China Sports activities Insider in Beijing.

“However once more, it relies on what perspective you are . Are you simply wanting via that slender lens? As a result of for those who’re China as a complete, the narrative (from exterior China) is rather more about China utilizing these Video games for sportswashing…I do not suppose it is actually going to vary folks’s perspective on China as a rustic.”

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