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Beijing organizers say met plan to popularize winter sports

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BEIJING (AP) — A key concern when Beijing was bidding to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games was the lack of a strong winter sports tradition in the country.

Organizers countered by pointing to the vast potential for growth, and now say they more than met their target of involving 300 million Chinese in skiing, hockey and other cold weather pastimes.

Beijing won the Olympic bid in 2015 when six European bidders dropped out of contention and the International Olympic Committee was left with only two candidates — Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

On Thursday, the director general of the organizing committee’s planning department, Li Sen, said the goal of “engaging 300 million people in winter sports” had become a reality.

That is a “long term development,” and there is still plenty of room to grow, Li said at a news conference to discuss the release of a report on meeting sustainability goals for the Games that begin Feb. 4.

Li put the total number of people in China who have participated in winter sports at 346 million, and said the country now boasts 654 standard ice rinks and 803 indoor and outdoor ski resorts.

Beijing’s winning bid was also based on sustainability through the reuse of venues originally constructed for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.

Given the dry climate, artificial snow would have to be produced in large quantities, but Games spokesperson Yan Jiarong said the impact would be highly limited. However, some environmentalists have disputed that conclusion.

“Our artificial snowmaking system adopts the world’s most advanced water-saving equipment.” Yan said. “In general, the water used in snowmaking is relatively limited and will not have an impact on regional water safety and ecological environment.”

The Beijing Games are being held in three different zones, in downtown Beijing, in Yanqing on the capital’s outskirts and in Zhangjiakou in neighboring Hebei province.

Athletes, officials, staff and journalists are being kept in a bubble to avoid COVID-19 infections and only a few handpicked spectators will be in the stands.

The Games have been shrouded in controversy centered on China’s human rights record, which was also a concern in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

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More AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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