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  • Carys Shepard

Winter Olympics 2022: Reaching Beyond Global Complexities

In the midst of a global pandemic, people from all over the world are convening in Beijing, China, for a popular, bi-annual event: the Olympic Games.

This year’s Winter Olympics are occurring just 6 months after the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which were delayed due to the pandemic. However, although the Olympics are happening on time this year, much has changed since the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The Beijing government is enforcing stringent measures to ensure that none of the Olympic participants contract COVID-19. Flights were chartered specifically for people attending the Olympics. Upon landing, participants’ bags were sprayed with disinfectant and they were tested for COVID-19. If someone tested positive for the virus, they were required to isolate until they tested negative twice, at least 24 hours apart. All attendees had to quarantine in their hotel rooms for 14 days prior to the Games, uploading their temperature readings onto an app every day. Travelers are not the only ones who had to comply with these regulations: Local staff and volunteers also had to test and quarantine for 14 days prior to the Olympics. Additionally, after the Olympics, they are required to quarantine for 21 days before returning to their homes. As a result, Chinese staff and volunteers to the Olympic games will not be able to spend time with their families over Chinese New Year, among the most important and widely celebrated holidays in China.

The goal of these regulations is to create a “bubble” surrounding the Olympics so that no one from the Chinese public will infect Olympic competitors, and no one traveling to China for the Olympics will spread COVID-19 to the general Chinese population. The different locations of the Olympic events are connected with high speed trains that have specific sections cordoned off for Olympic participants. The Olympic bubble is so carefully protected that residents were informed by police not to help if an Olympic vehicle is in a crash. Specific medics within the Olympic bubble are prepared to come to their aid. These policies are all part of China’s zero-covid method of controlling COVID-19, a harsh system in which strict lockdowns are imposed at the slightest increase of COVID-19 cases.

COVID-19 is not the only situation that has impacted the Olympic Games. Politics has also played a role, specifically for the United States. Many U.S. officials have long desired to hold the Chinese government accountable for their abuses of the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China, and some members of the government also sought to protest the crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong. The recent disappearance of famous tennis player Peng Shuai after she accused a Communist Party member of sexual assault added another dimension to China’s human rights issues. The U.S. sought to undermine the image that China has projected to the world at the Olympics — one of a strong, independent nation — with a diplomatic boycott of the Games in response to the host country’s human rights abuses.

Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign minister, responded to the U.S. boycott by demanding that the United States “stop politicizing sports” and stating that “China will take resolute countermeasures.” China never clarified what those countermeasures would be, however.

Despite the boycott by the U.S. government, American athletes still participated in the Olympics. This year, there were seven new events: women’s monobob, men’s and women’s big air (freestyle skiing), mixed team snowboard cross, mixed team aerials, mixed team short track relay, and mixed team ski jumping. The United States was expected to win a similar number of events as they did in PyeongChang during the last winter Olympics, where they won 23 medals. Several experienced athletes are participating this year. Among them are Shaun King, a three-time medalist who primarily participates in half-pipe snowboarding; Mikaela Shiffrin, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who competes in alpine skiing among other ski-related events; and Nathan Chen, a three-time world champion in figure skating.

This year, the NHL withdrew from the Olympic games due to COVID-19 concerns. Several players were upset because they were not given the option to decide for themselves about participation in the event; however, the withdrawal did provide an opportunity for younger American ice hockey players, mostly college students, to exhibit their skills.

Despite all the ways the world has changed since the last winter Olympics just four years ago, the Games continued and were filled with the same intensity, energy, and excitement. In 2022, a world exhausted by the COVID-19 pandemic craves the excitement of the winter Olympics. We are united by the inspiration of our talented young athletes competing for their countries and restoring hope for all that is possible.

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