Veteran Canadian Olympic officials dismiss 'silly' calls to move 2022 Games from China

·5 min read
Activists protest against the 2022 Beijing Olympics outside of IOC headquarters in February. While some have been calling to move the Games from China due to reported human rights abuses, that may not be a realistic option, say veteran Olympics organizers.
Activists protest against the 2022 Beijing Olympics outside of IOC headquarters in February. While some have been calling to move the Games from China due to reported human rights abuses, that may not be a realistic option, say veteran Olympics organizers.

(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)

A number of Canadian politicians have called for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, China, to be relocated to another country, but Dick Pound, a Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee, says such a move is unfeasible at this late date.

"What the politicians are doing with this kind of a request of moving the Games with less than a year to go is silly," said Pound, a former president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "If they give this 30 seconds of thought, they know it's not possible."

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole and other politicians, including Green Party Leader Annamie Paul and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, have called for the relocation of the Games, pointing to the Chinese government's treatment of its Muslim minority population.

Concerns have also been raised over China's actions in Hong Kong and the ongoing detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

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Two of the people involved in organizing the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics agree the logistics involved in staging a Games make a move impossible.

"The ability for a country to step in this late — the headwinds are fierce," said John Furlong, who was head of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC).

"It makes for great headlines and it makes for great debate, but the truth is, it's far too down the road to contemplate."

Dave Cobb, who was VANOC's deputy chief operating officer, said it takes years to prepare for an Olympics.

"It's such a massive [project] that we took seven years and we needed every week of those seven years to be ready," said Cobb.

The 2022 Winter Games are scheduled to open Feb. 4.

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Politicians call for action against Beijing Games

A multi-party group of 13 MPs also released an open letter calling for the Olympics to be relocated. Jean-Luc Brassard, a gold medallist at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, signed the letter along with some Canadian non-governmental organizations.

Annamie Paul has suggested Canada should consider the feasibility of hosting the Games, but Cobb said the timeline is too short.

"We could not replicate anywhere close to what we had in Vancouver in 2010, because so much of it takes years of advance planning," he said.

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Pound said moving the Games is a non-starter for the IOC.

"We certainly haven't discussed it and have no intention of discussing it," he said.

David Shoemaker, the CEO and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said in a statement that moving the Games now "would be next to impossible."

Massive undertaking

Furlong compared organizing an Olympics to "staging three Super Bowls a day for 17 days."

A new host city would need the sports venues and an athletes village capable of housing the thousands of competitors attending the Games. There's also the logistics of security, transportation, recruiting thousands of volunteers needed to stage the event and securing accommodation for officials and media.

"If you think of Vancouver, it took us eight months just to put the governance model in place," Furlong said. "You'd have to build an organization capable of delivering the Games.

"You can certainly sit and dream and say you could do it, but no one would reasonably say, 'I think we can pull that off,' and deliver it anything near the standard that's required for the Games."

Cost is another issue. The estimated budget for the Beijing Games is $3.9 billion US. Furlong said the money the IOC has committed to Beijing has already been spent. That would leave a new host country scrambling to find cash to pay for the event.

"I would say the chances of any government being willing to do that are slim," said Furlong.

The last two cities to host a Winter Olympics were Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018 and Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

Furlong said many of the facilities in those cities have been re-purposed for non-sports uses.

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Even in Vancouver, facilities would need to be reconditioned.

"Some of them would be straightforward, some of them would be extremely complicated," said Furlong.

Pound said relocating the Games to Sochi would be difficult, because Russian athletes have been banned from competing at all major sporting events until December 2022 because of a doping scandal.

Move would be 'complete humiliation' for China

Cobb said one option could be spreading events around several cities in different countries.

"You could put on a hockey game at Rogers Arena [in Vancouver], or you could put on a ski event in Whistler, but it wouldn't have many of the unique elements which Olympic Games are all about," he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic is another factor for countries to consider.

"How many countries would be ready to receive all the people, the employees and the media and everyone who would be suddenly descending on them," he said.

Moving the Games from China could also have legal and political implications.

Beijing will be the first city to host both a summer and winter Olympics.

Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer in the economics of sports, gaming and gambling at Concordia University, said taking away the Winter Games would be seen "as the ultimate affront" by the Chinese government.

"This is a complete sort of humiliation," he said. "They're not going to take it too kindly."

Furlong said it also could make potential bid cities nervous.

"It would make countries feel that they were vulnerable, that you could do this any time," he said.