China gets the 2022 winter Olympics

  • February 02, 2013

IN 2022 the Winter Olympics will be held in a place with no snow. On July 31st the International Olympic Committee awarded the games to Beijing, to be held in the city ofZhangjiakou, 250km (150 miles) north of the capital. The resort beat Almaty in Kazakhstan, the only other remaining city left in the bid. China has many tasks to complete in the next seven years to ready itself. Among them is to make some snow.

When any city is awarded the Olympics, questions quickly follow about the country’s ability to build the appropriate infrastructure in time—and how much it will cost. These cause less anxiety in China. In its bid the country highlighted its prowess at building fancy stadia, zippy high-speed rail and other transport links on time. Beijing has already hosted a successful summer Olympics—making it the first city ever to host both. In terms of the cost, the government deems no price tag too high for the prestige of staging the Olympics, yet another symbol of China’s growing pre-eminence in the world.

More worrying is China’s ambition to stage the winter Olympics—and launch a winter sports industry—in an arid desert (Zhangjiakou is near the Gobi). Almost every winter Olympics venue uses artificial snow to supplement their own supply, and to ensure a plentiful supply of the best kind. But most have far more of their own to start with. China does have areas which are covered in the real stuff through the winter, but these lay farther away from the capital, to the far north and north-east.

The government has already quashed the growth of golf, another sport whose high water demands were deeded excessive. But it now plans to spend nearly $90m on water-diversion schemes to satisfy Olympic demand. The country has already invested in giant diversion schemes to channel water hundreds of miles from the south to quench the thirst of the capital; groundwater supplies are being used up too.

Of greater concern to environmentalists than a two-week party in 2022 is the broader attempt to launch China’s own domestic ski industry. The sport is still very much in its infancy: on an average winter weekend most of the skiiers sliding down the fake snow at Zhangjiakou are beginners.  It is also too expensive for most Chinese. Yet for months airports around the country, including in the balmy south, have been attempting to flog winter sports to Chinese consumers. It may also now persuade a few of them to practice rather hard. China not only needs to make some snow, it needs to make some gold-medal winners too.