Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised to deliver a “safe and splendid” Winter Olympics as organisers reported detecting dozens of new coronavirus infections among people linked to the Games.
Addressing an International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Beijing on Thursday – a day before the Games opening ceremony – Xi said “China is ready” to host an event that lives up to the Olympic slogan, “faster, higher, stronger – together”.
“We will do our best to deliver to the world a streamlined, safe and splendid Games,” he said.
When the Games officially open in Beijing on Friday, the Chinese capital will become the first city to host both summer and winter editions of the Olympics.
But preparations for the event have been hit by diplomatic boycotts as well as the coronavirus pandemic.
The competition, in which some 3,000 athletes are expected to take part, is shaping up to be the world’s strictest mass sporting event since the pandemic began, with all Games-related personnel subjected to daily tests and housed in a “closed-loop” system that seals them off from the Chinese public.
Speaking at the same IOC session on Thursday, the chair of the Beijing 2022 medical expert panel, Brian McCloskey, said a total of 55 new COVID-19 infections had been found among the Games-related personnel on Wednesday.
The figure – which includes 29 among new airport arrivals and 26 among those in the Olympic bubble – is the highest reported in a single day so far.
But McCloskey says he is not worried and expects to see cases ease once all participants arrive.
“The numbers are very small,” he said. “We are confident that the system will work. But we are not relaxed. We keep all measures in place.”
He added that there had been 287 positive tests from a total of 610,000 tests since January 23.
Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, also said “everything is in place for safe and outstanding winter Games”. But he condemned the diplomatic boycotts of this year’s Olympics, led by the United States and joined by the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
The boycotting countries said their move was prompted by concerns over China’s alleged human rights abuses, including its treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups.
Rights groups have also long criticised the IOC for awarding the Games to China.
But 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, referring to how the 1976, 1980 and 1984 Olympics had all been hit by boycotts of countries during the Cold War era.
The moves severely dented 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 sport industry to be worth some $150bn by 2025.
“From this tremendous growth the winter sports industry around the world will benefit,” Bach said.