Beijing’s Olympics Will Probably Be As Depressing As Tokyo’s

Photo: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

Do you like your Olympics devoid of distracting cheering? Do you enjoy an airless atmosphere at sporting events? Well, then you’re in luck. China announced on Monday that, thanks to COVID, it would not sell any tickets at all to next month’s Winter Games. Instead, it will invite a select number of pre-approved COVID-negative fans to cheer along. It’s not clear whether this will constitute a small group of people (which could conceivably be stranger than including zero fans at all) or a large one. Either way, it will likely all be very weird, just as Tokyo’s delayed, fanless Summer Olympics were last year.

In its unparalleled (and often troubling) attempt to control COVID, China had already prohibited anyone outside the country from buying tickets to the Games. That it has now gone much further than that is an acknowledgement of its failure to completely stem the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant. While the rest of the world has jettisoned the strictest COVID policies, China is still instituting extremely restrictive measures; it recently locked down the entire city of Xian (population 13 million) amid an outbreak there. A single case of Omicron in Beijing over the weekend prompted authorities to conduct testing on anyone entering the city. An Olympics that could easily turn into a superspreader event is apparently a nonstarter for Xi Jinping’s government.

COVID complications aside, there was already something of a pall over this year’s games, as China’s relationship with the West has hit a low ebb over a multitude of issues. The United States and several other Western countries recently announced diplomatic boycotts of the proceedings in protest of China’s human-rights abuses of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang. Between the simmering international tension and the pandemic, viewers craving something approaching an upbeat Olympic experience will have to hold out for Paris ’24.

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Beijing’s Olympics Will Probably Be As Depressing As Tokyo’s