Explainer: Why does Beijing have the Olympics again?

How did Beijing land the Winter Olympics so soon after it was host to the Summer Olympics in 2008? It will become the first city in Olympic history to host both the Winter and Summer Games.

City will become 1st in Olympic history to host both Winter, Summer Games

A group of people visit Beijing Olympic tower earlier this year. The upcoming Winter Games are now the target of a diplomatic boycott by the U.S., with others likely to follow. (Wang Zhao/Getty Images)

The Beijing Winter Olympics open in just under two months and are now the target of a diplomatic boycott by the United States, with others likely to follow.

So how did Beijing land the Winter Olympics, so soon after it was host to the Summer Olympics in 2008? It will become the first city in Olympic history to host both the Winter and Summer Games.

The answer is simple. Potential cities in Europe — as many as six — dropped out of the bidding in the wake of the doping-scandal-ridden 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The widely advertised price tag for Sochi of $51 billion US also frightened away future bidders.

When it got down to the voting stage in 2015 in meetings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the International Olympic Committee was left with only two candidates: Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Beijing won narrowly 44-40, a close vote that was marred by what some at the time suggested might have been voting irregularities. IOC President Thomas Bach bristled at the suggestion.

Cities and regions withdrew from 2022 bid race

It's a long list of rejections from cities across Europe. Oslo and Stockholm are the two high-profile cities that pulled out during the bidding process. They were joined by Krakow, Poland, and Lviv, Ukraine, which also withdrew bids.

Two other areas with potentially strong bids — St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Munich, Germany — were rejected by the public in voter referendums. The German rejection was a stinging blow to Bach, who is from Germany. It's also notable that the IOC headquarters are in Switzerland.

WATCH | Trudeau considering diplomatic boycott of Beijing Games:

Canada considers following U.S. with diplomatic boycott of 2022 Beijing Olympics

1 year ago
Duration 2:35
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is considering a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, something the Opposition is pushing for after the U.S. confirmed it won’t send officials to China next year.

Oslo and Stockholm, probably regarded as the preferred venues as the IOC attempted to return the Olympics to a traditional European winter venues, both pulled out because of costs and politics.

Bach acknowledged at the time in a 2014 interview that the Winter Olympics were a tough sell.

"The number of candidates for winter is already very limited by geography," he said. "Also we can't forget that this is a challenging time with regard to the world economy."

Beijing or Almaty?

The choice for the IOC members came down to two authoritarian governments that did not require any public vote, and also had few constraints on spending: Beijing and Almaty. Beijing spent more than $40 billion US on the 2008 Summer Olympics.

In promoting their proposals, organizers in Almaty at the time said 79 per cent supported the bid. Beijing said 94.8 per cent in China were in favour.

Almaty tried to win the vote, reminding that it was a winter sports city surrounded by mountains and natural snow. It was a dig at Beijing, which has no winter sports tradition and little natural snow in the areas picked for skiing.

WATCH |  Canada weighing implications of Beijing Games boycott: 

Should Canada stage a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics?

1 year ago
Duration 7:18
Rob Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, is asked if Canada will follow the United States' lead and stage a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Beijing and some IOC members countered that skiers actually prefer artificial snow. The IOC also saw Beijing as a huge winter-sports business opportunity.

Beijing won by four votes, which was described as much closer than expected. Members chose what they believed to be the less risky option, which has not turned out that way.

"It really is a safe choice," IOC President Bach said at the time. "We know China will deliver on its promises."

The IOC choice was sharply criticized at the time by human rights groups, which noted that the 2008 Olympics had not improved rights' conditions in China.

Scandals soiled previous bids

Getting down to two candidates — neither the top choices — shocked the IOC. It was part of the reason that the IOC no longer goes through a long bid process to pick host cities. Bach said at the time that the bid process produced too many "losers."

Moreover, it was embarrassing for the IOC to explain why voters turned down holding the Olympics — particularly the smaller Winter Games. The bid process was also soiled by scandals surrounding the awarding of the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics, in which IOC member were allegedly bribed for their votes.

WATCH | Erin O'Toole addresses athletes prepping for Olympic Games in China:

O'Toole addresses athletes prepping for Olympic Games in China

1 year ago
Duration 0:45
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole says he 'struggles' with the Olympic Games being in China following the country's conduct toward Canadians like Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The bidding for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games was also hit by scandal.

Under the IOC's new process of choosing venues, the approximately 100 IOC members no longer vote. The choice is now made by the leadership headed by Bach. The IOC has already chosen venues for the Olympics through 2032.

They are: 2024 Paris; 2026 Milan-Cortina, Italy; 2028 Los Angeles; 2032 Brisbane, Australia. The only open slot is the 2030 Winter Olympics, in which Sapporo, Japan, seems to be the leading candidate. The IOC has not indicated when that choice will be made.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?