Beijing today defeated Almaty in Kazakhstan to become the 2022 Winter Olympics host, despite its lack of natural snow and concerns raised by human rights campaigners.
The Chinese capital emerged victorious on Friday, with 44 votes to 40 in a secret paper ballot, making it the first city to be awarded both the winter and summer games.
Had it won, Kazakhstan would have been the first country to bring the games to Central Asia. But the "risky" option was beaten by Beijing, which was seen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a safe, reliable choice — despite Chinese officials having to insist that the city's pollution crisis would not be a problem.
Xu Jicheng, deputy director of Beijing 2022's press and communications department, said this week that "technically" the pollution in the city has been reduced and controlled. "We have seven more years to go and it will be sunshine and white clouds," he added.
Beijing has also faced fierce opposition from protesters, who said today's decision was "a slap in the face to China's besieged human rights activists."
"The Olympic motto of 'higher, faster, and stronger' is a perfect description of the Chinese government's assault on civil society: more peaceful activists detained in record time, subject to far harsher treatment," said Sophie Richardson, China director at NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW).
"In choosing China to host another games, the IOC has tripped on a major human rights hurdle," she said.
In 2008, HRW said that the Beijing Olympics was tainted by a sharp increase in human rights abuses directly linked to China's preparations for the games.
"The run-up to the Beijing Olympics has been marred by a well-documented surge in violations of the rights of free expression and association, as well as media freedom," a HRW statement said.
"In addition, abuses of migrant construction workers who were pivotal to Beijing's infrastructure improvements have increased, as have evictions of Beijing residents whose homes were demolished to make way for that infrastructure. Those abuses reflect both the Chinese government's wholesale failure to honor its Olympics-related human rights promises, as well as the negligence of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in ensuring that China fulfills its commitments."
But the IOC has insisted Beijing was awarded the 2022 Games because it fitted its new agenda for a "stronger focus on sustainability, legacy, and transparency."
Beijing and Kazakhstan's biggest city Almaty had both been considered longshots when the 2022 bid race opened two years ago, but after Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow, and Lviv pulled out for various reasons, the two were the sole remaining contesters.
Beijing plans to reuse several venues from the 2008 Olympics, including the "Bird's Nest" stadium and "Water Cube" arena. But the snow and sliding events will be at venues in Yangqing and Zhangjiakou, almost an hour from Beijing via a new high-speed rail line.
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