With Beijing Olympics one month away, many questions linger

Staff members attend a rehearsal for a victory ceremony at the Beijing Medals Plaza of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (Ng Han Guan/AP Photo)

While the opening ceremony remains scheduled for Feb. 4 in Beijing, there is plenty of uncertainty about various aspects of the Olympics exactly one month before the official start.

With the Omicron variant causing a worldwide surge in COVID-19 cases, International Olympic Committee officials have indicated thoughts of postponement or cancellation are not front of mind.

Longtime Canadian IOC member Dick Pound left the door to cancellation open just a little in an interview with USA Today this week.

“There is no indication that’s going to happen,” Pound told reporter Christine Brennan. “But there is nothing in living memory that we’ve ever experienced of this nature. It certainly is going around the world, and more people are traveling so more people are in a position to catch or spread the virus, so yes, of course you have to say ‘we are concerned with the health and safety of our team.’ “

Pound’s comments came after Canadian Olympic Committee president/CEO David Shoemaker expressed concern about the Beijing Games to CBC, saying “We’re worried.”

“At the same time, we’re learning as we learned from the Tokyo 2020 experience and heeding every bit of guidance we can from our chief medical officer and his network of medical experts,” Shoemaker told CBC’s Scott Russell. “We’re confident that these Games can still be scheduled safely. But we’re taking it day-by-day.”

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics were pushed back to 2021 in March 2020, but Pound doesn’t see the IOC going a similar route with Beijing.

“I don’t think these things are postponable. In almost every respect the arrow has left the bow. They’re going to start Feb. 4 and it would take a real upset of some sort to change that,” Pound said.

“I think there will be uncertainty surrounding the Games in the public, as far as the ship sailing, but right now, the lines are cast off and the boat is leaving the dock, unless Armageddon happens and public health authorities say we lock down every country. At that point, it changes the entire paradigm.”

Just who is going to represent Canada remains a question, as well.

As of Tuesday, the COC had only named the men’s and women’s curling teams.

Several sports have had hiccups in their qualification process. Fourteen members of the Canadian bobsleigh team have been in COVID protocols in Latvia, while the Canadian women’s hockey team had two games in Alberta cancelled against the United States because of COVID cases.

In addition, the Canadian mixed doubles curling Olympic qualifier was cancelled last month in Portage la Prairie, Man.

There’s also the question of who is going to play for Canada in men’s hockey after the NHL pulled out last month.

Nevertheless, Beijing organizers continue to make plans to go forward with the Games.

Thousands of staff were scheduled to report to the Beijing bubble on Tuesday and will have no contact with the outside community.

Meanwhile, Canadian athletes are doing what they can to avoid COVID before the trip.

Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris told John Chidley-Hill of The Canadian Press he’ll be “laying incredibly low” until the Olympics.

“Think it’s a small price to pay for something that is a huge goal of mine to go there and compete and I’ve been waiting for a while for this one,” said McMorris, a two-time Olympic bronze-medal winner. “It’s really too bad that (Omicron) popped up and it’s so transmissible right before the Games.

“It seemed a little chiller when the Summer Games were going on. But yeah, here we go.”

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