The atmosphere couldn’t be more different than 14 years ago when Beijing hosts the Olympics for a second time.
While the 2008 summer Games were held amid a spirit of optimism the February 4-20 winter edition takes place amid a siege mentality that is not only owing to the strict coronavirus measures.
“There is no feeling of openness. China is isolating itself,” says one European ambassador in Beijing, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
A bitter dispute between China and western nations over human rights violations, the suppression of ethnic minorities and democracy movements in Hong Kong as well as sabre rattling in the direction of Taiwan is making headlines instead of anticipation.
Several western nations are staging a diplomatic boycott by not sending government officials to the Games.
Tthe human rights situation in China is “catastrophic” and has “considerably deteriorated” since 2008, and even more since Xi Jinping became President in 2013, according to Amnesty International’s Theresa Bergmann.
“The time has come to put the full focus on the human rights situation and to confront China accordingly,” she said.
Bergmann said that national Olympic committees and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have a special responsibility in this area,
However, IOC president Thomas Bach has insisted it is a neutral body.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to attend the Games in China which is now the second biggest global economic power and a super power, also helped by the global financial crisis after the 2008 Games.
Caught somewhere in-between are the athletes who do not vote on future hosts but are asked to speak up while also having to justify their participation.
The strict coronavirus measures in China only add to the gloomy outlook, with no contact between the Chinese public and those engaged at the Olympics who are in a closed loop environment with daily tests in a scheme far more restrictive than at last year’s summer Games in Tokyo.
“The athletes are not at the centre like they were in Tokyo but instead clearly the prevention is. It will be the most controlled Games in history,” the ambassador said.
Test events in autumn in some sports including luge gave a first taste, even though the IOC has said that improvements have been made in some areas since then.
“Everyone was happy when we were gone again – and out of the prison,” German multiple Olympic luge champion Georg Hackl said.