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Pictured: Olympic torch arrives in Beijing ahead of 2022 Winter Games

·2-min read
Pictured: Olympic torch arrives in Beijing ahead of 2022 Winter Games

The Olympic flame arrived in Beijing on Wednesday with China set to host the Winter Games in February.

Beijing will become the first city to host both the summer and winter Olympics, amid a Covid pandemic that means overseas spectators will be excluded.

Communist Party chief Cai Qi lit a cauldron to symbolise the arrival of the torch in China during a welcome ceremony held near the National Stadium, designed for the 2008 Summer Games.

The Olympic torch relay set off from Fukushima in March and left Athens on October 19, travelling to Beijing in a red lantern designed in the likeness of a Han Dynasty tomb artefact.

China will display the flame at Beijing’s Olympic Park from Wednesday.

In early February, 1,200 torchbearers will carry it through the capital, Zhangjiakou city and Yanqing district, which are the competition venues.

The torch relay route has been “appropriately reduced” due to the need to guard against the spread of Covid-19, said Beijing Vice Mayor Zhang Jiandong at the ceremony.

The event went off without a hitch in Beijing where, like elsewhere in China, security is usually tight.

At a ceremony in Athens, to hand over the flame to China, three protesters unfurled a banner reading “No Genocide Games” and waved a Tibetan flag.

Activist groups disrupted the ritual in southern Greece on Monday, accusing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of granting legitimacy to rights abuses in China.

Officials have said they are committed to seeing the competition go ahead and that rights issues are not part of their remit.

Cai Qi, Beijing Communist Party secretary lights up the Olympic cauldron (AP)
Cai Qi, Beijing Communist Party secretary lights up the Olympic cauldron (AP)

Speaking in the ancient stadium of Olympia, IOC President Thomas Bach said the Games must be “respected as politically neutral ground.”

Activists on Tuesday said human rights in China have deteriorated since 2008, claiming that the Summer Games “emboldened” the nation.

Over those years, Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has consolidated power over virtually all aspects of Chinese society.

Human rights activists say China’s oppression of political critics, along with minority groups including Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uyghurs and a crackdown in Hong Kong, should prompt athletes and politicians to shun the games.

Guests watch video showing first torch bearer, Greek alpine ski racer Ioannis Antoniou, right, pass flame to the second bearer, former Chinese speed skater Li Jiajun (AP)
Guests watch video showing first torch bearer, Greek alpine ski racer Ioannis Antoniou, right, pass flame to the second bearer, former Chinese speed skater Li Jiajun (AP)

Spectators from outside China will not be allowed to attend the Winter Games due to coronavirus, and athletes must remain in a bubble to guard against its spread.

China has largely stamped-out domestic transmission of the disease, the first cases of which were detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

Deputy Beijing Mayor Zhang Jiandong said the city was committed to holding a “simple, safe and excellent Games.”

Beijing successfully hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, although the event failed to produce the more open political and social environment in China that many had hoped for.

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