With some 20 million Chinese now in localised stay-at-home lockdowns, the Beijing 2022 organising committee has announced that it will not now be selling Olympics tickets to its own citizens due to the "grave and complicated situation of the Covid-19 pandemic". Groups of local spectators may yet, however, be invited to attend under strict pandemic restrictions.
The games won’t require athletes to be vaccinated against Covid, but the unvaccinated must quarantine for 21 days when they arrive in Beijing. Fully vaccinated participants will be required to remain in a tightly managed “closed-loop” bubble from the moment they arrive in Beijing to the time they leave. The tightening of the controls came after the first reports at the end of last week of Covid cases in the capital and as the authorities enforced the country’s harsh zero-Covid regime in a number of cities.
As boycotts go, it was always a far cry from the 1980 Moscow summer games boycott
The new Chinese rules make the diplomatic boycott led by the US and joined by Australia, Britain and Canada somewhat moot. Imposed over human rights abuses by the Chinese, notably against the Uighur Muslim population in Xinjiang province, the protest only involved the non-attendance of government officials. It was not joined by sponsors or top athletes, although some of the latter were tempted after tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former top government official of sexually assaulting her – and promptly disappeared from public view.
As boycotts go, it was always a far cry from the 1980 Moscow summer games boycott when more than 60 countries opted out because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan the previous year. The boycott crippled the fields in many events and led to a half-hearted attempt at retaliation by the Russians four years later.
Beijing, which has invested heavy political capital in running a successful games, will be relieved that they will proceed – albeit devoid of fans – as a major TV spectacle, a branding exercise for the country’s aspiring status as a world power and “vindicating” its zero-Covid strategy.