The Winter Olympians will compete in Beijing next month without large crowds, the International Olympic Committee confirmed on Monday, amid growing fears over the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in China.
The decision not to sell tickets to the Chinese public makes Beijing the second consecutive Olympics to be played largely without fans. The Tokyo Olympics last summer also did not allow the general public to attend.
The move was long overdue, as organizers in Beijing initially refused to sell tickets to international spectators, then later indicated they had not decided to make them available to Chinese residents.
“Given the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to ensure the safety of all participants and spectators, it has been decided that tickets should no longer be sold but should be part of an adapted program which will invite groups of spectators to be present during the Games,” the IOC said in a written announcement of the move.
“The [organizers] expect these spectators to strictly adhere to COVID-19 countermeasures before, during and after each event to help create an absolutely safe environment for the athletes.”
Under rules adopted by organizers in Beijing trying to adhere to a “zero Covid” goal, the Winter Olympics have been set up to take place in a “closed loop” isolated from the rest of the country. Chinese visitors to the loop would have faced intensive measures, including potentially lengthy quarantines.
Beijing and IOC organizers had expressed confidence in the measures, even as Omicron ricocheted across Europe and North America ahead of the new year. Now the highly transmissible, vaccine-avoiding variant has officially reached China.
The sight of empty stadiums surrounding elite athletes has been familiar for much of the pandemic, especially during the delayed Tokyo Summer Olympics, which took place in July 2021. Tokyo’s decision, however, has complicated by the sale of tens of thousands of tickets, leading to nasty fights when they were cancelled. The athletes, meanwhile, felt the disappointment of learning that their family and friends could not cheer them on.
Winter athletes have been preparing for such a move for longer, and many already have experience competing in front of reporters, fellow athletes and a handful of dignitaries.
In figure skating, the flagship sport of the Winter Olympics and the most crowd-influenced sport, top competitors have competed virtually, in front of cardboard spectators and in front of packed houses over the past two years, displaying both the changing attitudes to the virus over time, and the different national approaches in place.
Skaters often said they were disappointed not to perform in front of an audience, but understood the reason and were grateful to be able to compete. Still, many had carefully planned their Olympic programs with a Chinese audience in mind, including American men’s singles skater Vincent Zhou.
“My free program this year, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, is a very well-known Chinese martial arts film. And so I think having a program that is also, I guess, culturally appropriate for me and the place of the Olympics is quite exciting,” Zhou said in the fall.
At the time, Zhou told reporters that at least some of his extended family in China “would definitely like to get tickets to see me skate live.” In January, however, he admitted those hopes were fading. “The spectator situation is TBD at this stage. I don’t think people, our family members will be able to get tickets or anything, but whatever, it will be a privilege to be in Beijing. “, he declared during the American championships in Nashville.
The move could also reduce the home court advantage for China’s top medal hopefuls, including freestyle skier Eileen Gu and the pairs figure skating team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.
This story was published from a news agency feed with no text edits
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