BEIJING — Ni Yulan vividly remembers how proud she was when China was awarded the 2008 Olympics — until her house was demolished ostensibly to make way for the Games, police beatings left her permanently disabled, and she spent four years behind bars.
Today she’s not so thrilled about Beijing’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The Chinese capital suffers from appalling smog, has barely any snow on its surrounding mountains and no tradition of winter sports, but it is nevertheless the favorite to be awarded the 2022 Games ahead of its lone rival, Almaty, in Kazakhstan. If successful, it would be the first city to stage both versions of the Olympics.
“China is stable politically, has a prosperous economy and a harmonious society, which is the most important guarantee to host the Winter Olympics,” Beijing’s Mayor Wang Anshun said at a news conference last month after an International Olympics Committee inspection team visited the city. “We enjoy a good social environment and public support.”
But it is Beijing's human rights record that has many people objecting to its bid and wondering how a country that repressed its people in its preparations for the 2008 Olympics could even be in the running for a second Games so soon afterward.
Ni said her campaign for compensation for her and her displaced neighbors has cost her and her daughter Dong Xuan their jobs. Just last fall, 30-year-old Dong was locked inside her apartment by police during an Asian regional summit, to prevent President Obama and other visiting world leaders from glimpsing any trace of dissent.
“The Olympic Games in 2008 made me homeless and disabled,” Ni said. “How many other houses were demolished? How many people were injured or lost their lives? I hope the International Olympic Committee thinks very seriously about this.”
Beijing has promised that the Games will popularize winter sports in China; skating classes have begun, while state media reports that the number of visitors to a ski resort outside Beijing is rising. It has pledged that 600 new hotels with 130,000 rooms would be built at the three venues; the landmark Bird’s Nest stadium would be used for the opening and closing ceremonies, while the nearby Water Cube would host curling.
A high-speed rail line is planned to whisk visitors from Beijing to the other two sites, and $13 billlion is being invested in a plan to clean up the capital’s air, officials said.
While Oslo withdrew its bid for the Games last year, citing lack of public support to shoulder the cost, Beijing officials quote a survey conducted by a French company as suggesting nearly 95 percent of its citizens are in favor of the bid.
For those who watched Beijing’s 2008 Games in those swanky stadiums or from the comfort of their homes, there can be little doubt that a Beijing Winter Games would not lack for spectacle, nor is there any doubt about the potential host’s political will and efficiency.
But that political will, critics say, is imposed through a ruthless state security machine, while “public support” is generated through a compliant media and courts.
In 2001, Ni was at home with her husband, in her family's traditional courtyard house, as she watched a television anchor cry with joy announcing the news that China had been awarded the 2008 Olympics.
“We were very happy as well,” she said. But seven years later, Ni watched part of the dazzling opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics from a detention center, with very different emotions.
“I was very miserable,” she said, sitting in a wheelchair in the tiny one-room rented apartment where she now lives with her husband, surviving on his meager pension, their few remaining possessions stacked in cardboard boxes on top of a cupboard. “Because of the Olympics, my life became like this.”
Like more than a million other Beijing residents, Ni’s house was demolished in the run-up to the Games, supposedly to make way for a pedestrian shopping area for the Olympics. In the end, it was replaced by an imposing government building. The Olympics, rights groups say, served as the excuse for a huge land grab.
Ni lost her job as a legal consultant at a state-owned firm and has spent the past decade in prison, under house arrest or constantly on the move between rented apartments because of police harassment. At one point, she says, she was tied up and beaten for three days on end, and left with many broken bones.
As China was awarded the 2008 Games, then-IOC President Jacques Rogge said he was convinced the move would improve human rights in China, and vowed to “act” if they did not. Francois Carrard, the director general of the IOC at the time, said the movement was making a “bet on openness.”
But today it is apparent that the IOC’s bet has failed and its promise of action was hollow, critics say.
As the 2008 Games approached, China ramped up its repressive policies in Tibet, rights groups say, culminating in mass protests in March of that year that saw thousands detained and at least 100 people killed. In mainland China, dissident Hu Jia wrote a letter, along with civil rights lawyer Teng Biao, pointing out that the Games would be held in a country with no elections, no freedom of religion, no independent courts and where torture was common. Just four months before the Games opened, he was sentenced to 3
“I fully support and welcome all kinds of sports events,” he said, speaking by telephone from his home, where he remains under house arrest. “However, the precondition is that the games can’t be another diamond in the crown of the Chinese Communist Party. It can’t be excruciating hell for human rights.”
The IOC reacted to controversies surrounding Beijing 2008 and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, with reforms that will oblige host governments to sign a contract with an explicit anti-discrimination clause, and pledging to protect human rights, labor rights and the environment.
Beijing’s bid is the first test, Human Rights Watch says.
But principles may be hard to enforce when the choice lies between Beijing and Almaty, and when so much money is at stake.
“Will the IOC also conveniently ignore the record of empty promises and succumb to power politics a second time?” Sharon Hom, executive director of the New York-based group Human Rights in China, wrote in an e-mail. “Will it consider the risks to its Olympic brand? The international community may not share its capacity for historical amnesia.”
Gu Jinglu contributed to this report.