It pains me to say it, but was I the only one who didn’t bother checking up on the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics this year? I don’t think I was, since the ratings for this sporting event were at all-time lows. These definitely disguise the viewership garnered by social media and streaming platforms, but it paints a picture of what seemed to be a moment that came and went. It’s almost sad, in a way; these recent scandals have torn apart the original purity of a sporting sensation.
I guess, perhaps, there were a few things that occurred during the month of February that may have taken people away from the slopes. Let’s revisit a couple of moments.
World politics meddled with the Olympics. The Russian build-up at the Ukrainian border drastically increased in late-January heading into the Olympics, with nearly 190,000 troops along Belarus and Crimea throughout the games themselves. China’s authoritarian policies spilled over into the games, with journalists who were covering the events being routinely subjected to Chinese authorities, even when they had been directed to film in so-called “designated areas.” There were also discussions about China’s treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. President Xi Jinping addressed these allegations by having Uyghur Olympian Dinigeer Yilamujiang hold the ceremonial torch during the opening ceremony.
The Winter Olympics have been under existential threats due to climate change, with Beijing marking the first Olympics to be almost entirely dependent on artificial snow. While the process of making artificial snow can help offset the effects of a warming planet, it is an extremely resource intensive, environmentally destructive practice that brings into question not only the economics of future Winter games, but also the sustainability of the Olympics themselves.
Media coverage has also been a topic at these games ever since Simone Biles stepped down from many of her best events in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, citing mental health concerns. Many have pointed to the heavy media coverage the athletes receive leading to increased burnout and pressure to meet expectations. In these Games alone, Mikela Shiffrin and Shaun White both saw heavy media exposure after disappointing turnouts in their events. Stations lavished in their pitfalls, starting with Shiffrin hunched over crying for minutes after her fall.
Now, let’s be honest; all of this has been ingrained in our consciousness long before the Games began — that’s why it’s been such an engaging story for many media outlets.
And these outlets need this kind of coverage in order to maintain their presence. People don’t watch four-hour prime-time slots on NBC; they watch highlights on social media, from crashes to victories, along with the interwoven reality checks of war and famine.
It was always this way, but to me, it’s a radical departure from my time watching the Olympic Games.
I started being invested in 2014, when Sochi hosted the Winter Olympics. The games had a similar undertone of Russian aggression, with the upcoming annexation of Crimea. However, that didn’t bother me at the time. I wasn’t caught up on geopolitics, I was interested in what was on T.V.
My mom was the one to put on the Olympics, being a fan of the ice skating events. It could’ve been a reminder of her times back in the Netherlands, where she would go ice skating on frozen lakes and ski in the Alps with her family. Trips like those were momentous occasions, like my experience going to Disney World every year.
You could say it was her escape from 40 hour work weeks.
Whenever any kind of controversy or scandal would come up, from Sochi’s lack of snow to the Russian doping scandal that led to the establishment of the Russian Olympic Committee, my mom would brush it off; “It’s always been this way,” she would respond, not letting anything get in the way of the athleticism on display.
I quickly got into the sporting sensation, being amazed by the races on ice, the tricks skiers and snowboarders would pull off on the half-pipe and the incredible speeds Bobsledders and Lugers would go through. I would keep my mom updated on medal totals, even letting her know how the Netherlands were fairing (they won 24 medals, their highest showing at the Winter Olympics).
I look back now at those times a whopping eight years ago, with the innocence that I held, with the nature of the Games being something more aligned with the founding principles of the Olympics thousands of years ago. A standstill of the world, an escape from war and distress, to instead appreciate and nurture the human spirit in sport and culture.