By Karolos Grohmann
BEIJING (Reuters) – The Beijing Olympics, which officially opens on Friday, will be streamlined, safe and splendid, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday, as the head of the IOC decried boycott ghosts “rearing their ugly heads again” over human rights concerns.
Addressing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in the capital via a brief video message, Xi said China had played an active part in the Olympic movement since staging the 2008 summer Olympics.
For these winter Games the country had engaged 300 million Chinese in winter sports as promised, he said.
“From ‘One World-One Dream’ in 2008 to ‘Together for a Shared Future’ in 2022, China has taken an active part in the Olympic movement and consistently championed the Olympic spirit,” he said.
“The Olympic Winter Games will open tomorrow evening. The world is turning its eyes to China and China is ready. We will do our best to deliver to the world a streamlined, safe and splendid Games.”
The Chinese capital will become the first city to host both summer and winter editions of the Olympics but preparations have been hit by diplomatic boycotts and the coronavirus pandemic.
The United States, Britain and some other allied countries have staged a diplomatic boycott of the Games over human rights in China.
Rights groups have long criticised the IOC for awarding the Games to China, citing its treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups, which the United States has deemed genocide. China denies allegations of human rights abuses.
IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly defended his organisation’s choice for the 2022 Olympics, saying the IOC was not a political body nor was its mandate to influence laws in sovereign states.
He said on Thursday that in the two years leading up to the Beijing Games he had seen “the dark clouds of the growing politicisation of sport on the horizon.”
“We also saw that in some peoples’ minds the boycott ghosts of the past were rearing their ugly heads again,” Bach said.
The 1976, 1980 and 1984 Olympics were all hit by boycotts of countries during the Cold War era, severely denting the event’s universality and finances.
“This is why we have been working even harder to get this unifying mission of the Olympic Games across to as many leaders and decision makers as possible,” Bach said.
He also noted what he said were major commercial opportunities created by these Games which he expected would transform the global winter sports industry.
“Today we can say China is a winter sport country. This is why Beijing 2022 will be the start of a new era for global winter sport,” Bach said.
He estimated China’s winter sports industry to be worth some $150 billion by 2025.
“From this tremendous growth the winter sports industry around the world will benefit,” Bach said.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Sam Holmes and Lincoln Feast.)