50 positive cases were found in the bubble, scuttling the local group’s plans less than a week before departure
The group pushing for more Winter Games in Utah will ultimately not have the chance to see firsthand how the Olympics play out during a pandemic.
The International Olympic Committee told the Salt Lake Tribune in an email Friday that it had canceled its observer program for the 2022 Games, “to allow teams on the ground in Beijing to focus on delivering the Games. in the context of the current global pandemic.”
A surprisingly high number of COVID-19 cases have been linked to flights to Beijing. As of Wednesday morning, 50 people in the Olympic bubble had tested positive for the virus since it opened to foreigners on January 4, according to Olympic organizers. Another 79 tested positive at the airport during that time, including the first athlete or team official on Monday. Over the past three days, around 3% of all Olympic staff arriving in Beijing have tested positive for COVID-19.
A plane full of athletes and coaches from the US team was due to arrive in Beijing on Friday.
The IOC’s decision came days after three members of the Salt Lake City-Utah committee left for China for the Games. The committee is pushing to host the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games and its delegates plan to participate in the observer program. The group included President and CEO Fraser Bullock as well as Committee Chair and four-time Olympic speed skater Catherine Raney-Norman and Games Advisor Darren Hughes.
“Of course I’m disappointed because it was an opportunity to reconnect with so many friends from the Olympic and Paralympic movements and watch the athletes at their best,” said Bullock, who said he was alerted Monday to the cancellation of the observer program. “However, I fully understand the extreme caution shown by the organizers of the Beijing Games and I support them 100%.”
Earlier this month, the United States announced a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Olympics to protest China’s human rights abuses. At the time, Bullock said the move would not affect his band because its mission was educational, not political.
“We are focusing on behind the scenes,” he said, “understanding what they are doing in terms of hosting the Games, new ideas we can bring to our Games and talking with people about our future accommodation opportunity.”
The Olympic Observer Program is, according to Olympics.com, “one of the key elements of the knowledge transfer process, providing a unique opportunity to experience, learn and observe the actual operations of the Games”. Attendees typically include delegations from future Olympic hosts, such as LA 2028, as well as Candidate Cities. Bullock said he expected all cities interested in hosting the 2030 Games to have representatives there. This would likely include Sapporo, Japan; Vancouver, British Columbia; the Barcelona-Pyrenees region and Ukraine.
The groups would have observed aspects such as opening ceremonies, ticketing, transportation, medical facilities and media operations. Additionally, the SLC-Utah group planned to meet informally with IOC officials to learn more about the selection process and ways to improve their bid.
The IOC said in its email that “All lessons learned from the Games will be incorporated into the Beijing 2022 debriefing in Milano-Cortina later this year, which will provide an opportunity for [national organizing committees] and potential future Olympic hosts to learn about topics such as vision and culture; inheritance and funding; operation of a mountain cluster; impact and reach; and developments and innovations.
This is the second time face-to-face meetings between the SLC-UT group and IOC members have been scuttled. A November meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, was also canceled due to the coronavirus. Bullock said he expects that meeting to be postponed.
At that time, he said, “We can learn from them everything that happened in Beijing that we should be aware of.”
Bullock said he also expected to be on hand in Paris to observe the 2024 Summer Games.
In addition to those who tested positive, people who were within two rows of an infected person on a plane to Beijing are considered ‘close contacts’ and may also be required to self-quarantine. . This could have been a problem for the SLC-Utah delegates. They hoped to return to Salt Lake City by February 8, in time to participate in the 20th anniversary celebrations of the 2002 Olympics.