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Remote Control Beds, Human Rights Violations, And An Increasingly Complicated Beijing Olympics

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics begin amid a massive swirl of complications and difficulties that will cloud the best of the event.

The Beijing Winter Olympics have arrived and it’s hard to know how to feel about them. Much like a microcosm of [gestures at everything] the absolute mess around us all, the Winter Games are, well, complicated.

There are the athletes. The wonderful athletes, replete with one amazing story after another. And, really, that’s when the Olympics are at its best, when we can sit back and see something astounding while contemplating the remarkable context of that person’s journey.

However, the stage they will compete on, the manner in which they compete and the ongoing pandemic, make the entire enterprise seem all the less palatable.

I understand if you haven’t exactly been inundated with the good news from games that will be again devoid of fans from countries outside China.

Not to worry, because much like previous Olympics, Beijing will be marked by the quirky as well as the egregiously concerning.

There won’t be cardboard beds as seen in Tokyo. China ramped up sleeping to 11 as village beds are remote-controlled, offering exhausted athletes the option of sleeping in what is referred to as zero-gravity mode.

Now, that concludes the event’s most whimsical storyline.

Covid

So, yeah, that pandemic is still going on. Naturally, the continued global health crisis will make this event look and feel different, much as it did last summer in Tokyo.

Testing has been a major focus of early reporting. A positive result not only quarantines athletes and media, it very well might mean the end of the competition for anyone testing positive.

Chinese officials are looking at their protocols and aiming for a “zero Covid” mitigation effort, which means Olympians endure added stress in the coming days.

Team USA’s bobsled contingent has undergone its share of positive tests, putting into doubt who will be able to compete when their competition kicks off.

As Yahoo! Sports explains, Beijing’s protocols make a positive test a remarkably difficult hurdle to compete.

In discussing Josh Williamson, a bobsledder who recently tested positive, the report states: “(Josh) Williamson — like every other member of the delegation who has tested positive this month — will need four consecutive days of negative tests, plus a fifth-day buffer, before he can depart, according to updated protocols finalized late last week. Each of the four tests must be a PCR test, which can remain positive for weeks after a person clears the contagious phase of their infection.”

The New York Times’ Andrew Keh writes, “Administrators in every country have stayed up nights scouring databases of approved testing sites, and coaches have worked to calm athletes trying to hold their nerve.”

Bobsledding fan favorite, Elana Meyers Taylor, is one who discovered she had covid when arriving in Beijing. At the moment, she sits asymptomatic, remaining hopeful that she can actually do what she set out to do when she left for the Winter Games. She said she is, according to NBC News, “optimistic that I’ll be able to recover quickly and still have the opportunity to compete.”

What Winter?

Nobody expected Beijing to get the 2022 Winter Games, Olympics that were initially assumed to be headed to Oslo.

ESPN’s Sam Borden reports on the winding and problematic road these games took to arrive at a place that experiences temperate weather.

It means these Olympics will look a bit different. Yahoo Sports’ Henry Bushnell spoke with Slate on the various storylines presented in Beijing.

“The IOC warned about that and said the games are going to rely 100 percent on artificial snow,” Bushnell told Slate. “I believe it’s the first time that that will ever happen. You’ll see some of these pictures of the mountains on which the competitions are going to be held; it’s basically a completely dry, nonwhite mountain. And then there’s this little sliver of white that is the snow for the downhill skiing or whatever.”

The Presentation

The Winter Games are singular in another regard. They will commence at the same time that this country prepares for the Super Bowl.

As figure skaters soar and Chloe Kim spins, the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams will be locked in on their Feb. 13 clash.

Not that NBC, which will present both, is complaining. Mike Tirico is part of the skeleton crew that will present the Olympics but he will also feature at the Super Bowl.

While exhausting for him, the two events will coincide to give NBC all of that juicy content.

“I get to be the automatic quarterback on two great teams. It’s like the sandlot dream on the biggest stage possible coming to life,” Tirico says, via KGET. “We’ll have that Olympic coverage with a live Gold Medal skating event and bobsledding for women, where a couple of Americans have a great chance to win medals, right after the Super Bowl.

“So it’s right from the trophy presentation back to our set outside of SoFi, weather permitting, the chance to bring everyone some great Olympic coverage as well.”

For fans of international competition, these games will also have their fair share of new events, including mixed team relay in short-track speedskating, which should be fun as well as the high flying antics of men and women’s big air skiing.

And speaking of high flying, this may be the final ride for the legend Shaun White at the Olympics.

“I'm proud that at my age, I'm still doing this sport," White said, via NBC DFW. “I’m honored and the most proud of being able to stay on top of a sport that's ever-changing. And for this long, to show up and do some heavy tricks with the younger riders, that's very inspiring to me.”

Human Rights

The overarching and most pressing issue is that of human rights violations. Violations include, according to Reuters, “the treatment by the Chinese government of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups, which the United States has deemed genocide.”

China has denied allegations but the issues remain at the very heart of games that will be marked by largely ignoring the elephant stomping around the room.

Bushnell tells Slate that human rights issues were supposed to be addressed when Beijing hosted the Summer Games in 2008.

Of course, the games left and vacated the global consciousness as quickly as fans leaving venues.

“Human rights experts say that things have gotten exponentially worse in China since then (2008),” Bushnell said. “So this time, there has been no narrative around human rights. They haven’t said that these games are going to open up China or improve human rights in the country. Everybody, from the organizers to the IOC, is more or less just trying to ignore that angle of it.”

Athletes are being asked to be silent, show up, and compete. They will do so amid an incredible amount of uncertainty as to their covid status, anxiety over their own security, and the stress of simply competing on the greatest stage in their respective sport.

These Olympics are characterized by one glaring issue after another. What remains are the athletes, people who have sacrificed and deserve praise and support.

Thankfully, a modicum of the madness will get whittled down into beautiful hilarity. We will be able to root on the athletes who have sacrificed. We will do all of this as one, and while we inevitably follow Leslie Jones’ reactions on social media.

The world will be much better at that point.