So why was China awarded the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, the nation’s capital?
It’s actually pretty easy to understand.
Only two countries ultimately bid to host these Olympic Games: China and Kazakhstan, which nominated its city of Almaty to host these Games. The IOC can’t force cities and countries to bid.
Who didn’t put forward a final bid?
Norway had made it the furthest other than these two, withdrawing its bid not long before the final vote. Norway had hosted two previous Winter Olympic Games. Norwegian organizers claim there were “diva-like demands” from the IOC before ultimately withdrawing its 2022 bid. There’s a squabble between the IOC and Norway about these “demands.”
To be sure, the difficulties of hosting an Olympic Games, and working with the IOC, are well-documented.
Regardless, Norway withdrew its bid at a time when it was likely to be awarded the Games.
Cities in Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and other countries with much better LGBTQ protections had expressed an interest in hosting the 2022 Winter Games as well. None of them ultimately bid to be the host city.
As for the United States, several cities were interested in hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics. Yet the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee opted to focus on its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles; LA was ultimately awarded the 2028 Summer Games.
When all of these Western hosts were exhausted, some people turned their hopes to Vancouver, Canada, as a possible location. Vancouver had hosted the 2010 Winter Games. Instead, Canada reportedly opted to focus on hosting the 2030 Olympics.
Ultimately the IOC was left voting for the better of two bad options: China and Kazakhstan. Beijing beat out Almaty in a close vote, 44-40, signaling dissatisfaction in the membership.
If you think LGBTQ rights are better in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan than China , think again. While same-sex sexual activity is legal in the country (as it is in China), that’s about it. There’s no recognition of same-sex unions, gay men can’t donate blood, same-sex couples can’t adopt, and there is no discrimination protection. Plus social pressures make it difficult to be out.
Regardless, this all could have potentially been avoided if the United States, Canada, Sweden, Norway or another country had stepped up to put forward a final bid to host these Games. While no country can boast perfect scores on human-rights issues, few are worse than China.
To be sure, the scale of the Olympic Games limits who can host, particularly a Winter Olympics when ice and snow are mandatory.
In addition, the cost of hosting the Games, as they are currently imagined, can be prohibitive. While the last three Winter Olympic hosts all claim the Games were profitable — in addition to Salt Lake City in 2002 — having so many countries drop out of the running to host 2022 should raise some serious questions.
“When only two countries want to even be in contention to host one of the largest sporting events in the world,” said Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor, “the question shouldn’t be ‘Why did the US and others fail to submit a bid?’ but instead ask ‘Why don’t more countries want to host to begin with?’”
Reinforcing that point, the 2026 Winter Olympics ultimately also had only two countries complete the bidding stages: Italy and Sweden. The joint cities of Cortina d’Ampezzo and Milan in the Alps will host, surely bringing attention to issues of LGBTQ inequality in the Catholic country.
Conversely, the Gay Games — a quadrennial sporting event that can draw around 10,000 athletes as well — had eight cities complete the bidding process for 2026. The initial cost of hosting the Gay Games is in the millions, not the billions of the Olympics.
Cities want to host events like this. And the up-front price tag of hosting the Olympics is prohibitive.
Still, if we don’t want a blatant human-rights violator like China to host the Games, until there are reforms about what the Olympics look like, other countries are going to have step up.
The Olympics aren’t going anywhere. Yet where they take place is still an open debate.
If countries with more-inclusive LGBTQ policies don’t step up, we’ll see more Olympics in Russia, China and the like.