Beijing 2022 has officially begun. The protests against it – and the People’s Republic of China – will continue, the arguments will rage on, and the sport itself is sure to be compelling. Thanks for reading today and see you soon for more.
“Many people are choosing not to watch the Beijing Olympics and have made the #IWillNotWatch pledge due to severe and systematic human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang (where genocide and crimes against humanity are alleged) and China proper,” writes Brian on email.
“My kids and I love to watch the Olympics, so it is with sadness we made this pledge. We are from Hong Kong and managed to get out, but many of our friends and hundreds of other political prisoners are in prison there as I write. It would sicken me to enjoy watching the Olympics while they are left to rot in their cells for no other crime than advocating for their basic human rights. I hope the IOC changes its ways and no longer allows dictatorships to host the Games (this goes for FIFA too: no more Qatars!).”
Links below to all our Beijing 2022 content from today, including a news piece on the meeting between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin:
Shelley Rudman has high hopes for British success at the Beijing Winter Olympics but admits the coronavirus situation surrounding the Games makes medal predictions tricky. The sporting showpiece in China is taking place under strict protocols due to the pandemic.
Great Britain have a medal target of between three and seven, having secured a record five at each of the last two editions. Rudman, who claimed skeleton silver for GB at the Turin 2006 Games, said: “I think it’s a really hard Games to put medals around people’s necks because it is such a different situation. I’m just happy they have all got out there and I think all the athletes are going ‘oh my goodness, we’ve got here, we’ve done it.’
“It [conditions at the Games] is definitely a challenge. Even just moving around the village, I think some of the athletes will be really worried about coming into contact with a Covid case, because then it means they have to quarantine, and if it’s close to their event, that’s really going to disrupt them. I think they just have to be really careful that they try to avert disaster as much as they can. So long they can avoid over-thinking about Covid, which is going to be really hard ... then we definitely could be in with a chance of medals.” (PA Media)
Will you be watching Beijing 2022 from Australia? Emma Kemp is here with a handy guide for how to keep up with the action:
The production values were top class. It looked stunning. The athletes all looked delighted to be there, albeit from behind their protective masks. And we had inspiring words on solidarity and inclusivity from the organisers and from the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach. What did you think? You can email or tweet me.
Away from the ceremony, outside of China, there are protests against the Games in view of China’s human rights record – including in the US, India, Turkey and Japan:
If you missed it earlier, here are some of the best images from the opening ceremony:
And here is today’s first hit of Martin’s definitive lowdown on everything at the Games:
Martin Belam’s daily briefing began today and runs until 20 Feb. Get yourself subscribed!
Want to read more? Why not get the latest edition of Guardian Weekly for lots of insight and analysis into the issues surrounding Beijing 2022:
“Smaller, quieter and more restrained than in 2008 ... but it had a real beauty ... and I loved the snowflake insignia,” says Clare Balding on the BBC.
The Olympic flame is lit. It burns at the centre of a slowly rotating snowflake, which is comprised of the names of the competing nations, and rises to hang at the centre of the stadium. And there is another breathtaking barrage of fireworks to round off the ceremony.
The Guardian view on China’s Winter Olympics: remember the Uyghurs
The financial crisis of 2008 was the moment which cemented both China’s rise and its growing confidence as the west faltered. But the Olympics held in Beijing a few months earlier was the global symbol of its ascendancy: a coming-out party which proclaimed its return to the forefront of political and economic power, greeted with genuine international enthusiasm, despite the misgivings of dissidents.
China’s Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin of Russia have signed a joint statement calling on the west to “abandon the ideologised approaches of the cold war”, as the two leaders showcased their warming relationship amid a tense standoff with the west before the Beijing Winter Olympics.
The Olympic flag, and the flag of the People’s Republic of China, are now flying side-by-side in the stadium. It’s all being done with suitable pomp and ceremony and is peppered with regular fanfares of brass and rousing orchestral music.
Another one for your browser bookmarks – the full schedule and live scores:
The Olympic flag is carried across the floor. The audience is asked to stand for the Olympic anthem.
The Olympics are not just closely followed by athletes, journalists and activists, but also academics.
Some found that since the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, Chinese people’s participation in sports has been on the rise. In the last few years, new sporting venues have been built and government-backed campaigns launched to encourage Chinese citizens to exercise.
I spoke to Shushu Chen, a lecturer in sport policy and management at the University of Birmingham. In the last decade, Chen and her fellow researchers have been tracking the impact of the 2008 and 2012 summer Games in Beijing and London, funded by the British Academy.
“Nearly half of respondents believed that the hosting of the Olympics had inspired them to increase their sport/physical activity participation and/or to try a new sport/physical activity (46% for Beijing, 47% for London),” she said in a recent report. “we found no significant differences between men’s and women’s long-term sport participation behaviour and perspectives on inspirational effects.”
Chen noted that compared to London, residents in Beijing were “ostensibly more positive about the inspirational effects of the Olympic Games, which can perhaps be explained by socio-cultural contextual differences between the two cases.
‘Sportsmanship’ and ‘Olympism’ were imprinted in Beijing residents’ minds, owing to a strong national and city-wide media campaign. Thus, the inspirational effect was arguably ‘activated’ for Beijing 2008, which has implications regarding individuals’ perceptions of the Games as a causal contributor to changes in participation behaviour,” she said.
The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games are officially open
Xi Jinping declares the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games officially open ... there is a huge and impressive blast of fireworks. Now a number of young people are doing a ‘walking performance’. The slogan “Together for a shared future” appears, before a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, with a smattering of choreographed ice skating by 24 skaters.
Bach continues: “It is possible to be fierce rivals while living peacefully and respectfully together ... this is the mission of the Olympic Games, bringing us together in peaceful competition, always building bridges, never erecting walls, uniting humankind in all our diversity.”
Bach: “To the Chinese people: Thank you for making these Winter Games happen, and make them happen in a safe way for everyone ... to everyone who is going beyond the call of duty, thank you for your outstanding efforts, and your solidarity.”
The Olympics stand for ‘ambition, courage and strength,’ says Bach.
In conclusion, Cai Qi hopes for a ‘Simple, safe and splendid Games’ and then hands over to Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC.
Who is Eileen Gu?
The 18-year-old California-born freeskier is now the pride of China. But as the geopolitical competition between China and the US intensifies, her identity has become the subject of much media scrutiny in recent months.
When she switched allegiances from America to China in 2019, she said: “The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people where my mum was born, during the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help promote the sport I love.”
Since then, Gu – born to an American father and a Chinese mother – has become a “super idol among Chinese young people for representing the true spirit of sport”, according to the Global Times this week.
But Gu’s new identity of representing China, which has been criticised by campaigners for human rights violations, has also angered many in the country of her birth. They say that China since 2019 has been a very different country, and Gu is complicit in not publicly criticising Beijing for its human rights abuses.
“When I’m in the US, I’m American. When I’m in China, I’m Chinese,” Gu once said. But it looks increasingly impossible for her to have both.
Cai Qi, the president of the organising committee, is speaking now.
Behind him are dozens of people carrying flags (not athletes), who have clearly been instructed not to stop smiling under any circumstances.
“[In 2008 we were] fulfilling our century-old dream of hosting an Olympic Games,” says Qi. “... today we witness here how Beijing becomes the first city ever to host both the summer and winter Olympic Games, and how China writes a new chapter in the history of the Olympic movement.
“As the old Chinese saying goes: Honouring a promise carries the weight of gold.”
“I think of that person, or look at photos of that person, and it feels like a lifetime ago,” Gus Kenworthy says as he remembers winning a silver medal for the United States as a freestyle skier at his first Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. So much has changed since then. He is now about to compete for Great Britain, the country of his birth, in his third and final Olympics in Beijing and Kenworthy will ski as a gay man, an LGBTQ+ activist and an actor.
Now, following the parade, we’re back for more uplifting, orchestral music and well-choreographed dancing.
A huge snowflake, rendered by lights and/or lasers (?), floats around the stadium, lands in the middle, and planet Earth appears below it. Pretty, pretty good.
The director cuts to the crowd, who are looking suitably enthusiastic about the arrival of China’s team. The parade of nations has concluded. The lighting of the Olympic flame will be coming up at some point soon ...
And here come China! Wow, they are mob-handed and led out by a phalanx of people in bright red, followed by a group dressed in white. Xi Jinping waves from up in his seat. It’s China’s largest-ever contingent at a Winter Olympics.
Australia stride on to the scene in camouflage-style green tracksuits. Italy, the hosts of the next Games, are the penultimate team to walk out. They’re wearing capes bearing the colours of the Italian flag. Michela Moioli, a snowboarder, carries the flag.
Monaco, Morocco, Australia, Italy and the People’s Republic of China are the teams still to come.
Mexico are here! A team of four. Sarah Schleper, one of the flag-bearers, is competing at her sixth Winter Olympics – a record for a female alpine skier.
Saba Kumaritashvili shook his head in frustration as he buckled through the finish line on Wednesday night after the second of two runs in the opening practice session at the Yanqing National Sliding Centre, the sparkling new venue nestled in the tree-lined southern foot of Xiaohaituo Mountain.
Even after barreling down the sharp turns of an icy track at frightening speeds exceeding 120kph, the Georgian luger came in dead last in his group among those who completed both attempts, each time finishing more than three seconds behind the pacesetter, Wolfgang Kindl of Austria. He could not hide his disappointment as he marched past a cluster of reporters in the mixed zone, paused for a beat to consider speaking, before hurrying off toward the dressing room to look toward Saturday, when the men’s singles competition begins in earnest.
Team Switzerland now enter the stadium, featuring the remarkable (and wonderfully named) alpine skier, Beat Feuz. Andres Ambuhl and Wendy Holdener carry the flag.
In 2018, Feuz won silver in the Super-G and bronze in the downhill.
The capacity of the Bird’s Nest is 80,000. There are plenty of people in the stadium, although it’s nowhere near full. Less than half, by the looks of it.
Elsa Desmond is set to swap her hospital rounds for hurtling feet-first down the frozen track in Beijing after she was given a place in the luge competition at the Olympic Games as Ireland’s first woman in the event. It will be a dream come true for the 24-year-old who recently qualified as a doctor and works for the NHS, after first watching the sport during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“I saw it on TV when I was just a kid, and I thought it looked amazing, it just looked like a lot of fun,” Desmond said. “I tried for about 10 years to get into the sport, and I eventually managed to get, as a civilian, on to a British Army ice sports camp as a teenager, and it just kind of went from there. I really, really enjoyed it and stuck with it,” she said.
As with all beginners, Desmond’s first trips down the ice started towards the end of the course, gingerly learning the skills needed at low speeds before progressing higher up. Nowadays, she is no stranger to World Cup races and speeds of over 130 kilometres an hour and she has provided extra work for her colleagues in the medicine business. “I’ve had a couple of small concussions, I’ve broken a foot, a couple of fingers - (injuries to) fingers and feet are very common in my sport. Other than that, just lots of bruises, but they heal quickly,” she said. (Reuters)
As advertised, Ireland have entered the auditorium. They have six athletes including the luger, Elsa Desmond, who is a doctor and works at a hospital in Southend. They’re all wearing green bobble hats and waving enthusiastically.
Thailand are here. And now here come the Netherlands. Trinidad and Tobago and Ireland are moments away.
The USA are here! They look excited! They’re wearing a mix of white and navy blue jackets. Fittingly, the letters ‘USA’ are emblazoned on the front.
North Korea did not make an appearance at this opening ceremony. Why? It was suspended by the IOC for not participating in the 2021 Tokyo Games. But the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, this morning sent a personal message to China’s president, Xi Jinping, congratulating him on the Games as a “great victory”.
“The successful opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics despite the worldwide health crisis and unprecedented severe circumstances is another great victory won by socialist China,” Kim said in the letter, according to Pyongyang’s official news agency KCNA.
A message like this is not just about saying nice things about the Games, however. In the letter, Kim also expressed his wish to improve relations with its powerful neighbour. The 38-year-old ruler said that he would “steadily develop the relations between the two parties and the two countries to a new high stage.”
The mighty United States women’s hockey team launched their first Olympic title defense in two decades with an air of menace on Thursday night, roaring to a 5-2 win in the opening game of pool play against a Finland team expected to contend for a medal.
But the Americans’ hopes of becoming the first team to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals were dealt a devastating blow early on when assistant captain Brianna Decker suffered a leg injury that will sideline her for the duration of the tournament.
The greatest show on earth? It’s a promising start:
France are here. They are all dressed as French flags. They are also waving mini-French flags. Up at the front, the freestyle skier Kevin Rolland and Tessa Worley, a downhill skier, are waving the full-scale French flag.
Here comes the Great Britain team: 50 athletes, with Eve Muirhead and Dave Ryding having the honour of carrying the flag.
Figure skating news – hot off the press – from Bryan Armen Graham:
Speaking of Team Chinese Taipei, which has four athletes competing in this month’s Beijing Games... Last week it announced it would not attend the opening ceremony, but it made a U-turn this week, citing pressure from the IOC that urged it to “fulfil obligations under the Olympic Charter”.
The IOC last year also cited charter rules when deciding to suspend North Korea from the Beijing Games, because Pyongyang refused to send a team to Tokyo for the summer Olympics, citing Covid fears.
A three-strong representation from Iran is soon followed by Hungary’s team, wearing fetching green beanie hats. All the while, a couple of hundred dancers in white outfits are arranged around the stadium and are continuing to do their thing.
One for your browser bookmarks here – the medal table:
Canada are here. Wearing red puffer jackets, waving frantically and clearly smiling broadly, albeit from behind their masks.
Mohammad Arif Khan, India’s downhill skiier, carries the flag for their team. Ghana, meanwhile, have one athlete: the 43-year-old Carlos Mäder is the oldest downhill skiier at the Games.
China’s Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin of Russia have signed a joint statement calling on the west to “abandon the ideologised approaches of the cold war”, as the two leaders showcased their warming relationship amid a tense standoff with the west ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
This is the opening ceremony but as per usual, the Games have already begun ... and so has Martin Belam’s daily briefing email:
You can sign up here and get Beijing 2022 news to your inbox every day. All part of the service.
Here comes Chinese Taipei, closely followed by Hong Kong ... Xi Jinping is pictured clapping. Hong Kong have a team of three athletes competing in Beijing.
The teams are coming thick and fast now ... Eritrea are closely followed by Jamaica, who as we mentioned earlier, are sending a bobsleigh team for the first time in 24 years. Benjamin Alexander and Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian carry the flag for Jamaica ... and here come Japan, who have a team of 124 athletes here.
We’ve just had a show of ice-cool blue lasers which spelt out all the previous host cities of the Winter Olympics. Highly diverting! And here come the athletes, starting with Greece, the home of the Olympic movement. The flag-bearers, Apostolos Angelis and Maria Ntanou, lead the way for the first team out of the traps.
On an island not known for its snow or ice, something is stirring. Not so long ago when Team GB turned up at the Winter Games, they left with their medal cupboard looking barren or bare. Sure, there was the occasional highlight – and those of a certain age will see Robin Cousins, Torvill and Dean and Rhona Martin in their mind’s eye – but as a winter sports country, Britain carried a distinct whiff of Eddie the Eagle: harmless and a little bit hapless.
Time for a trumpet solo. “My Motherland and I” is played by a boy while a Chinese flag is passed down two parallel lines of people who represent the many different ethnic groups living across the People’s Republic of China.
The opening ceremony has begun. The life cycle of a dandelion – and, I think, the beginning of spring – is being represented by what looks like about 100 people waving brightly-lit strands changing in colour. It looks ... really cool. There is a blast of fireworks spelling out SPRING, a cheer from a crowd that we can’t see ... and now Xi Jinping and Thomas Bach are being introduced.
This year’s Winter Olympics is also a game of competing narratives. China’s slogan is “Together for a Shared Future”, but opponents draw attention to the country’s human rights record.
Last night, US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, US’s top Democrat in Congress, highlighted Beijing’s actions in its own Xinjiang region, saying the country’s treatment of its Uyghurs population is “horrible” and “diabolical”. She also called the camps - which the Chinese call vocational education and training centres - in Xinjiang “slave labour”.
The US and some of its closest allies – including the UK – have staged a diplomatic boycott. Attendees to the Winter Games in Beijing tonight include Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan and Poland’s Andrzej Duda.
Of all the sport I watched in the 1970s nothing – not Gordon Banks’s save in Mexico, the Rumble in the Jungle or Emlyn Hughes hugging Princess Anne on a Question of Sport – made such an impression on me. Thinking about it now I realise something: I remember the whole of Franz Klammer’s run at Innsbruck in vivid colour. Odd, because I know for a fact that the television I watched it on was black and white.
The opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics began at 8.08pm local time on 8 August 2008; the Chinese believe eight is an auspicious number. That evening, Chinese-American Kaiser Kuo was watching from the balcony of his apartment in eastern Beijing. “It was meant to be impressive, and watching as a Chinese person, it certainly was: all the pageantry of history, the flawless performances, the grand scale,” Kuo says.
“But watching through my western eyes, this spectacular event also played into a sense of fear: the robotic juggernaut and machine-like rise. It was intimidating.”
The opening ceremony will begin in a little over 10 minutes.
Here’s our armchair guide to the Winter Games:
The opening of the Games featured prominently on national broadcaster CCTV’s main evening news bulletin. Tonight, the programme began with a long segment on the Xi-Putin meeting, which was held this afternoon, and ended with a bird’s-eye view of the Birds Nest, where the ceremony is about to be held.
Over the 17 days of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, more than 70% of the American population tuned in to watch on NBC, which has owned the exclusive US broadcast rights since 1988. The official audience figure of 215m domestic viewers far exceeded guarantees to advertisers and represented the apotheosis of the network’s star-driven storytelling ethos under longtime NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, one of the last high-profile sports TV impresarios.
But as the Olympics return to the Chinese capital less than 14 years on, the awareness and general buzz around the Games stateside, while impossible to quantify with any precision, has never felt lower.
The BBC’s opening montage, naturally, includes a shot of Lindsay Jacobellis’s infamous fall in the snowboard cross in Turin in 2006.
Personally I can’t wait for that event. Always a thrilling business.
The BBC’s coverage begins with Clare Balding promising more than 300 hours or coverage in the coming days. There are 3,000 athletes taking part across 109 events.
“I can promise you this, it’s going to be epic,” says Balding.
The Games will open in a country that hopes sport will be the talking point. But political twists or a resurgent virus could leave the event skating on thin ice.
By Emma Graham-Harrison and Vincent Ni:
Jamaica return to the bobsleigh after 24 years, Haiti and Saudi Arabia make debuts, while GB aim for curling glory ... here are 10 things to look out for in Beijing – By Sean Ingle and Bryan Armen Graham:
From the forthcoming 2022 World Cup in Qatar to Novak Djokovic’s failed attempt to play at last month’s Australian Open, it seems every major modern sporting event comes loaded with geo-political tension and ethical controversy. No sporting occasion on the planet carries more political significance than the Olympics and the US’s diplomatic boycott of this event due to China’s ‘ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity’ shows that, politically speaking at least, these Winter Games began a long time ago.
When the actors take the stage, however, most sports fans are willing to enjoy the show, and the Winter Olympics is a uniquely beautiful and compelling event. That’s the idea of sportwashing, of course, but whether these Games will be a political triumph for China remains to be seen.
Beijing becomes the first city to host a summer and winter Games – memories of the opening ceremony for the summer edition in 2008 remain vivid – so expectations are high for something similarly jaw-dropping over the next couple of hours.
More pre-ceremony reading is coming right up, with it due to begin at around 12pm GMT, 8pm local time, 7am in New York, 4am on the west coast and 11pm in Sydney.