Beijing picked to host 2022 Winter Olympics despite lack of snow, pollution issues
The capital wins two-year bid campaign despite its lack of natural snow, choking air pollution and protests from human rights groups
Practically snowless Beijing was yesterday chosen to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, becoming the first city to be awarded both summer and winter Games.
Performers organised by the government, many in matching white outfits, danced and waved Chinese flags in front of the Bird's Nest, the centrepiece for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
During the final pitch to the International Olympic Committee, President Xi Jinping vowed via a video link that China would "honour all of its commitments" and "stage an excellent and extraordinary Games".
Residents also gathered on the streets of co-host Zhangjiakou and the nearby winter resort area of Chongli, the backdrop for six events, to celebrate the narrow 44-40 victory over Almaty in Kazakhstan. Other outdoor events will be held in Beijing's Yanqing county.
"I've never seen so many people in Chongli. Many of them came from Beijing. It's a party night," Chongli resident Bai Tong said.
Minsheng Securities macroeconomic researcher Zhu Zhenxin said winning the bid was very important to top leaders, as the US$3.1 billion Games would probably be the only global sporting event to be held in China during Xi's tenure.
"They care a lot about hosting the Games, more than the public imagines. They were low-profile during the bidding process because they weren't quite sure of what the result would be," Zhu wrote on his Weibo microblog.
Beijing's road to victory was an unlikely one. The city was one of six candidates, including favourite Oslo, when the bidding process started two years ago.
But as one city after another withdrew under public pressure and cost worries, only Beijing and Almaty were left standing, making the Chinese capital the odds-on favourite.
Despite a lack of natural snow in the city's mountains, and protests from human rights groups, Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics helped make it a clear front runner.
The high-powered Chinese delegation assured IOC members that Beijing was the safe choice because it had already proved it could stage the Games, adding that it would take winter sports into the backyard of the world's most populous country.
He said the city government was working on a clean-air action plan for 2018-2022. The capital has previously pledged to slash PM2.5 pollution - the most harmful to human health - by a quarter between 2012 and 2017.
Greenpeace said Beijing and Zhangjiakou would face major challenges to improve air quality as the two cities tended to have the worst smog in winter, especially February, when the Winter Olympics were usually held.
Beijing will also have to improve water conservation so it can make artificial snow.
The city's selection also sparked criticism from human rights activists, with Human Rights Watch saying China's rights environment was "at its worst in the last two decades".
Additional reporting by Reuters and Kyodo