When are the 2022 Winter Olympics? And why are they so controversial?

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The 2022 Winter Olympics are set to begin Feb. 4 in Beijing. Despite Omicron fears, draconian COVID-19 countermeasures and endless controversy, organizers are pressing ahead with plans for the Games.

Here is what you need to know about those plans, and about why the Beijing Olympics are so problematic.

When do the 2022 Olympics begin and end?

The Opening Ceremony is Friday, Feb. 4. The sports start a couple days earlier, with curling on Feb. 2. The Games then continue for two-plus weeks, up until the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 20.

Where are the 2022 Olympics?

In China, in and around the capital.

There are three distinct competition zones. Beijing itself will host the indoor ice sports — hockey, figure skating, curling and speed skating — plus the big air ski and snowboard events. The National Stadium, dubbed the "Bird's Nest," will stage the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Yanqing, a mountainous district roughly 45 miles northwest of the city center, will host alpine skiing and the sliding sports — bobsled, skeleton and luge.

The rest of the sports, including most snowboard and ski events, will be in Zhangjiakou, some 110 miles northwest of Beijing.

Each zone will have its own Olympic Village, and will be connected to the other two by multiple transport systems, including high-speed trains.

Why are the 2022 Olympics controversial?

Largely because China's authoritarian government has been credibly accused of rampant human rights abuses — and, by the U.S., Canada and others, of genocide.

"All governments commit human rights violations, but China is the only Olympic host actively committing crimes against humanity," Human Rights Watch director Minky Worden said last year.

Chinese authorities have allegedly detained more than 1 million Muslims, many of them Uyghurs, in the country's westernmost province, Xinjiang. They've sent civilians to "re-education camps," and subjected millions throughout the vast autonomous region to "torture, mass surveillance, cultural and religious erasure, separation of families, forced labor, and sexual violence and violations of reproductive rights," according to Human Rights Watch.

Activists, citing those crimes — as well as similar crackdowns in Tibet and Hong Kong, and a general lack of democratic freedoms throughout the country — have called for a boycott. They believe the Chinese government will use what they've dubbed as the "Genocide Games" to legitimize itself and distract from abuses. Its recent silencing of Peng Shuai, a tennis player who accused a former Communist Party official of sexual assault, only amplified those calls.

Will any countries or athletes boycott?

The U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, among others, have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Games. But unlike the only previous U.S. Olympic boycott in 1980, no athletes will be affected this time.

And no athlete, as of early January, has indicated that they will skip the Beijing Olympics in protest. Some athletes have expressed frustration that the International Olympic Committee has put them in "the position of having to choose between human rights, like morality, [and] being able to do your job," as U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin said last year.

The most prominent athlete to publicly mull skipping the Games cited COVID-19 rules, and treatment while training in China in November, as her reasoning. Two-time luge gold medalist Natalie Geisenberger told a German broadcaster: “The conditions that we experienced there speak in favor of not necessarily going back there again.”

How will the 2022 Olympics be affected by COVID-19?

To hold the Olympics during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers have designed a bubble-like "closed loop." Athletes and all other Olympic participants will shuttle between lodging, training and competition venues, and ... virtually nowhere else. They'll be even more restricted than their Summer Olympic counterparts were in Tokyo six months earlier — if, that is, they can even get into China in the first place.

One of many strict virus countermeasures is a rule that requires athletes to submit two negative PCR tests before entering the country. They'll be tested again upon arrival at Beijing Capital Airport, and each day throughout their stay. If any of those tests come back positive, they'll be unable to compete. Amid record-setting, Omicron-fueled COVID surges in the U.S. and Europe, many athletes fear that infection in January could derail their Olympic dreams.

Could the 2022 Olympics be canceled or postponed?

They almost certainly won't be. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the chair of the Coordination Commission for the Beijing Games, said in December that there was no imaginable scenario that would lead to postponement.

The outlined countermeasures, Samaranch said, "can cope with mostly everything that can happen in the world about and around COVID."

Is there an Olympic vaccine mandate?

Yes. To enter the Olympic bubble, athletes will either need to be fully vaccinated or serve an unfeasible 21-day quarantine. So, barring medical exemptions, they'll all be vaccinated.

There is no booster mandate, unless an athlete's home country requires a booster to be considered "fully vaccinated."

Will there be fans at Olympic events?

That's still unclear.

Foreign fans were barred months ago, but organizers said at the time that residents of mainland China would be allowed to attend. In early December, Christophe Dubi, the Olympics' executive director, said that “organizers are planning for [the] presence of spectators,” but acknowledged that no final decision had been made.

As of early January, uncertainty lingers. No tickets have been distributed. "We are currently discussing the sale of tickets to domestic spectators," Han Zirong, the secretary general of the Beijing Organizing Committee, said in late December. "We will announce our plans at an appropriate time."

How to watch the 2022 Olympics on TV and online

NBC will broadcast the Olympics each night beginning at 8 p.m. on its flagship channel, and throughout the day on various NBC-affiliated networks and digital platforms.

Beijing is 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time, so some events that NBC shows in primetime will be replays. Others, though, have been scheduled for the morning in Beijing so that they can be shown live in the U.S. at night.

Most of NBC's live coverage will be housed on USA; the Olympic Channel; its streaming service, Peacock; and NBCOlympics.com.

Do the Olympics overlap with the Super Bowl?

They do. This year's Super Bowl, at the end of the NFL's first 17-game season, falls on Feb. 13, the second Sunday of the Olympics.

NBC, which will broadcast both, and which wields immense power in the Olympic world, actually craved the overlap. It will cross-promote each event during the other. Its Super Bowl coverage will lead right into Olympics coverage on Feb. 13.

When is the figure skating?

Figure skating begins Feb. 4, even before the Opening Ceremony, and continues on-and-off until the final weekend. Some medal events are in the morning, allowing U.S. viewers to watch live in prime time — though others would require early wake-ups:

  • Sunday, Feb. 6 at 8:22 p.m. ET (team event)

  • Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 8:38 p.m. ET (men's)

  • Sunday, Feb. 13 at 8:22 p.m. ET (ice dance)

  • Thursday, Feb. 17 at 5:08 a.m. ET (women's)

  • Saturday, Feb. 19 at 6:08 a.m. ET (pairs)

When is the hockey?

Hockey begins early with women's group play, then flips to men's group play, then charges toward the medal rounds. The gold medal games are Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 11:10 p.m. ET (women) and Saturday, Feb. 19 at 11:10 p.m. ET (men).

The U.S. women open on Thursday, Feb. 3 at 8:10 a.m. ET against Finland. They play Canada, whom they beat to win gold in 2018, in their last of four groups games on Monday, Feb. 7 at 11:10 p.m. ET.

The U.S. men begin exactly a week after the women, against the weakest team in the field, China. And they, too, get Canada in the preliminary round — on Friday, Feb. 11 at 11:10 p.m. ET.

When are the other popular sports?

Snowboard halfpipe medal rounds begin at 8:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Feb. 9 (women) and Thursday, Feb. 10 (men).

Other skiing and snowboarding events are scattered across the two weeks of competition. A full schedule for every sport can be found on the Olympics website.

Who are the athletes to watch?

There will be some familiar names — Mikaela Shiffrin (alpine skiing), Chloe Kim (snowboarding), Shaun White (snowboarding), Nathan Chen (figure skating). There are also up-and-coming stars, such as 16-year-old American figure skater Alysa Liu.

NBC Olympics has a thorough, multi-part list of U.S. and non-U.S. athletes to watch.

Will NHL players be at the Beijing Olympics?

No. The NHL and its players association originally agreed to allow stars to compete in Beijing, but scrapped those plans when COVID-19 forced the league to pause its season in December.

Why are the Olympics in China again?

Beijing is hosting these Games just 14 years after it hosted the Summer Olympics. Officials promised that those Games would transform the Chinese government into a responsible, law-abiding global citizen. Instead, since 2008, it "has gotten exponentially more repressive,” Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, told Yahoo Sports last year.

So why did the IOC send the Olympics back to Beijing? In part because no other qualified city wanted them.

Four European cities — in Norway, Sweden, Poland and Ukraine — initially expressed interest. "When [Beijing's] bid began, it was a trial balloon bid," a source with direct knowledge of the process told Yahoo Sports. "It was a bid that everybody kind of laughed at — thought it was preposterous, frankly."

But then the European candidates pulled out, citing financial or political concerns, and leaving the IOC with a choice between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Beijing narrowly won an IOC vote, 44-40.

“It really is a safe choice,” IOC president Thomas Bach said at the time. “We know China will deliver on its promises.”

Where are the next Olympic Games after Beijing?

Four future Olympic hosts have been confirmed: Paris (2024), Milan-Cortina d'Ampezzo (Winter 2026), Los Angeles (2028) and Brisbane (2032).

Salt Lake City is making a strong push to host the Winter Games in 2030.

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