BEIJING (AP) — Participation in snow and ice sports is growing in China, putting the country on track to meet a key goal included in its bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, a prominent International Olympic Committee member said Wednesday.
IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who oversees preparations for the Beijing Games, said more than 200 million Chinese “have engaged in ice and snow activities” in the five years since the Chinese capital became the first city to win the rights to host both the summer and winter Olympic games.
“We welcome these news,” Samaranch said at an online news conference. “It means Beijing 2022 is approaching its objective of engaging 300 million Chinese people in winter sports.”
Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008 and easily won its bid to host the 2022 winter games, despite the relative unfamiliarity of most Chinese with skiing, skating and ice hockey. A lack of mountain slopes and natural snow require that sledding and sliding events be held far from the city, with a newly built high-speed rail line providing access.
Still, China plans to compete in every event.
“A few years ago, we had almost no history in about one-third of the Winter Olympic sports,” Chinese Olympic Committee vice president Ni Huizhong said at Wednesday’s event. “We only started these sports a few years ago, and through scientific training methods, we are achieving the goal.”
Less easily resolved are accusations that Beijing is unfit to host because of the ruling Communist Party’s persecution of political opponents and ethnic minorities.
China’s detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims has been a particular focus of outrage, countered by Beijing’s claim that it was only providing job training and eliminating radicalism.
While Beijing and its outlying districts have largely completed construction on venues for the games, activists and foreign politicians have pushed for a boycott because of human rights abuses.
The U.S. State Department has said it was talking with allies about China’s human rights record and how to handle the games, which open on Feb. 4, 2022, just six months after the postponed Summer Olympics in Tokyo are to end.
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