BEIJING — China wins again.

The Chinese capital was awarded the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, defeating long-shot rival Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The win secured Beijing’s place in history as the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games, and signaled the country’s rising international clout.

The last time Beijing celebrated a successful bid, in February of 2001, China was an emerging economic power and a bit player on the global stage. The 2008 Olympics were a national obsession; success meant the respect of the world.

Today, China is the world’s second-largest economy and a commanding presence in world affairs. The bid for the 2022 Games very much reflected that confidence: No mountains? No problem. No snow? We’ll have it made!

Despite concerns about the geography and climate – not to mention the toxic air – Beijing sold itself as the safe bet, an expert in infrastructure with a population big enough to fuel a boom in the niche business of winter sports.

The final pitch was delivered by the big man himself, President Xi Jinping, who appeared on television hours before the decision to personally guarantee a “fantastic, extraordinary and excellent Olympic Winter Games.”

Almaty did not stand a chance.

Beijing’s win – by a margin 44 to 40 over Almaty – earned swift praise from Chinese officials and the state-backed press.

“We win! Beijing wins 2022 winter Olympic bid!” exulted the social media account of People’s Daily, a state-controlled newspaper.

In a piece titled “The glory belongs to China,” newswire Xinhua asked Chinese to always “remember July 31, 2015, another glorious moment in Chinese history.”

And yet the mood in Beijing was not quite jubilant.

In 2001, when Beijing won its first bid, tens of thousands of people flocked to Tiananmen Square to celebrate. Stone-faced cadres cracked smiles, even cheered. People sang at the top of their lungs.

This time it was a quieter affair. Beijing marked the occasion with a tightly choreographed event outside the “Bird’s Nest” stadium, a centerpiece of the 2008 Games.

The “Physical Fitness Cultural Exchange Event” featured a rather standard-issue lineup of dancers in lion-dance-type costumes. Widely circulated pictures showed the crowd practicing their moves at a rehearsal the night before.

Part of the difference is publicity. The run-up to the announcement had been relatively muted in China – especially compared to the euphoria that swept the nation with the announcement of the 2008 Games.

People have also got more going on right now – whether it’s gambling their money in the market or expressing themselves – carefully – online.

But the relatively quiet reaction also says much about the current political moment. The government may look increasingly confident abroad but sometimes seems rather brittle at home.

Since Xi took office there has been a narrowing of space for free expression and assembly, with tightening controls on what you can read or say online, and crackdowns on organizing.

It is hard to imagine authorities approving a gathering of tens of thousands anywhere, especially in Tiananmen Square.

Both China and Kazakhstan had come under heavy criticism from human rights advocates, who said that neither country deserved to win given their repressive political systems and harsh approach to dissent.

Similar concerns have been raised over the coming hosts of the world’s other major sporting spectacular, the World Cup, which was awarded to Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022.

In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, vast portions of the capital were razed and inhabitants sent packing with little compensation. Critics were muzzled and activists jailed.

Some rights groups hoped the International Olympic Committee might use this moment to admonish China rather than reward it.

“The IOC’s awarding of the 2022 Olympics to China is a slap in the face to China’s besieged human rights activists,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The Olympic motto of ‘higher, faster, and stronger’ is a perfect description of the Chinese government’s assault on civil society.”

The International Tibet network called the bid a “propaganda gift to China.”

“China wants the world to ignore its deteriorating human rights and be impressed by Chinese can-do pragmatism instead. That’s exactly what the IOC has done.”

For the IOC, pragmatism may indeed have won out.

Several other potential bidders had pulled out early in the 2022 process, scared away in part by the more than $40 billion price tag of the Winter Olympics held last year in Sochi, Russia.

Earlier this week, Boston abandoned its bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics amid worries that taxpayers could be on the hook for cost overruns – a move that suggests the Games could increasingly become the domain of governments that don’t have to answer to cost-conscious voters.

The Games will be a huge boon to China’s relatively undeveloped winter sports market – a tempting venue for sponsors and others seeking to find another way to tap into the 1.4 billion-person Chinese market.


But among the difficulties is the pollution. Recent winters have been brutal, with thick, suffocating air blanketing much of the Beijing area for days – sometimes weeks – at a time.

When Chinese people have talked about the bid – if they mentioned it at all – it has usually been to crack jokes about the odds of blue sky or skiable snow.

As if to wish away the concerns, the slogan of the Chinese bid was “joyful rendezvous upon pure ice and snow.” It only sounds moderately better in Chinese.

The awarding of the 2022 Games to Beijing raises questions about additional forced relocations, as well as the environmental impact of manufacturing hillocks of snow in such an arid, water-short region. Local residents question how nearby Zhangjiakou, the proposed ski village 90 miles from Beijing, will manage to cover its normally brown winter hills.

Almaty always faced long odds in its bid. The former Soviet republic covers a patch of land the size of Western Europe but holds fewer residents than Florida.

But Almaty sits in the shadow of the towering Tien Shan mountains, and athletes could have zipped up to the slopes from the city within half an hour.

Disappointed officials in Kazakhstan tried to make the best of their second failed Olympics attempt.

“By bidding for the Winter Games we showed the world the amazing progress that Kazakhstan has made since its independence,” said Andrei Kryukov, the deputy head of the bid. “This alone is a major victory for our country.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.