When the International Olympic Committee selected Beijing on Friday as the host for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, the Chinese capital became the first city to have hosted both the Summer and Winter games. This, most likely, isn’t coincidental: Beijing’s hosting of the Summer games in 2008 was generally considered a success, and Almaty, the Kazakh city whose bid placed second, lacks comparable experience.
A closer examination of Beijing’s 2022 bid, though, reveals the selection is far more peculiar than it seems at first glance. One reason: It barely snows in Beijing. China’s northern plain is extremely dry, and what precipitation that falls in the capital tends to occur during the summer. Beijing’s Olympic planners have assured the IOC this won’t be a problem—the country will simply use artificial snow to accommodate events, such as skiing, that require it.
But no amount of fake snow can cover up China’s lack of tradition in winter sports. Part of this is socioeconomic: Much of China’s population is poor by developed-world standards, and the equipment costs of winter sports tend to be prohibitive.
Another issue is the peculiar nature of how sports function in China. Most top Chinese athletes—think basketball’s Yao Ming—are selected from a young age and placed in state-run sports academies, where they receive extensive training in addition to receiving an education. Traditionally, China has centered its attention on summer sports like table tennis, swimming, and gymnastics, rather than sports like skiing, ice skating, and hockey. In recent years, skiing has become a popular sport among China’s wealthy—but much of the population remains unable to take part.