Beijing Winter Olympic Games 2022 Combines Sports Diplomacy and Cultural Diplomacy in the Digital Ag
Judit Trunkos is an Instructor at the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies at the University of South Carolina. Her r esearch interest is soft power, more specifically the various soft power instruments including sports, culture and education. She created a new soft power measurement method and a new dataset to evaluate all countries’ soft power use. Her representative works include Sport Diplomacy: A Review of How Sports Can be Used to Improve International Relations.
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games came to a successful conclusion. Hosting the Olympic Games is of positive significance to enhance soft power, strengthen national image publicity and other political aspects. In this context, the Center conducted an exclusive interview with Judit Trunkos, hoping to obtain her views on the Beijing Winter Olympics on improving China's national soft power and sports diplomacy in the digital age.
Judit Trunkos：Beijing Winter Olympic Games 2022 Combines Sports Diplomacy and Cultural Diplomacy in the Digital Age
China held the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which ended on February 20, 2022. Beijing was the first city to host both the Summer Olympics (2008) and the Winter Olympic Games (2022) in modern history. This was an exceptional opportunity for China to build a legacy and promote the attractive aspects of the country. In addition, due to the restrictions imposed by COVID, the lack of personal attendance of the events led to an increased digital reliance on reaching the international audience.
The ability for a country to get what it wants through attraction is called soft power, and the successful wielding of soft power is valuable for countries in an effort to increase their influences abroad . Hosting mega sports events such as the Olympic Games provides the host country the opportunity to show its beautiful landscape as well as organize a successful event, all of which adds to the country’s positive perception abroad. Building a positive image and gaining attraction is important in foreign policy because it can make the foreign policy goals more achievable through mutual understanding and strengthened alliances. China has been working on its soft power since 2007, when former President Hu Jintao announced that developing soft power through culture is one of China’s foreign policy goals. Since that time, China’s efforts to improve its soft power have been demonstrated in speeches and actions such as building the One Belt One Road Initiative and hosting multiple Olympic Games.
One of the main sources of attraction is a country's unique culture. China is usually known for using the dragon as a symbol, but in order to project a more peaceful image abroad, the organizers selected a panda for the mascot for the Winter Olympics. Bing dwen dwen, or the panda wearing an ice suit with a heart of gold, represented China’s panda culture to the world. China has been known for its successful use of panda diplomacy, which allows Zoos all over the world to temporarily host a panda for the visitors to see and connect Chinese culture and the people with the West.
The opening ceremony of the Olympics is always magnificent and provides an exceptional list of the most known and treasured cultural symbols of the country. This year at the opening ceremony, the world witnessed Chinese music, dance, art, fashion as well as an amazing light show and optical illusions referring to winter and ice. Connecting countries as pieces of a large snowflake placed in a heart symbolized unity and cooperation. The eternal flame emerging from the center of this snowflake of countries also added to the collaboration message of the event.
The TV and other media coverage provided a look into China through sporting events. Having exceptional facilities as well as running a mega sporting event successfully during a pandemic all added to the soft power of China. The fact that the organizers were able to coordinate 2,897 athletes from 91 countries into 109 medal events during a pandemic suggested strong organization skills. By combining sports diplomacy and cultural diplomacy, China used the Winter Olympics as a world stage to showcase its panda culture, its exceptional sports facilities, and its successful organizational skills.
Because the audience was not allowed to watch the Olympics in person due to COVID, the digital influence of the XXIV Winter Olympic Games has skyrocketed. As a result, by relying on digital platforms, the Chinese Olympics reached a high number of people. An exceptional number of sports fans downloaded and used the IOC (International Olympic Committee)’s Olympic App and Olympic Website (Olympics.com) to follow the events. According to IOC, 64 million people were reached, as well as 47 million virtual cheers were sent by fans to their teams on Olympic.com website. In comparison, Japan was able to reach 3.05 billion people and receive 150 million virtual cheers during the summer Olympics the year before . While the Chinese government’s restrictions on the media limited its overall reach, it was still able to work together with the IOC and spread China’s cultural message to the world.
Using sports events to attract a large number of people, combined with showcasing the unique culture of a nation allows countries to stand out, to be celebrated and to be talked about. This can only be done if the host country is able to show something that the international audience immediately associates with the country, for example the Statue of Liberty with the U.S. or pandas with China. For this reason, selecting a panda as a mascot was a good choice.
Boosting the reach in the cyber space and allowing millions of people to watch the sports events multiplies the extended influence of the host country. In the case of China, the XXIV Winter Olympic Games was an example of heavy reliance on digital coverage. Overall, China, working together with the IOC, used culture, sports and digital media to enhance China’s attractiveness abroad.
Hu Jintao (2007) “Full text of Hu Jintao's report at 17th Party Congress (7)” <http://en.people.cn/90001/90776/90785/6290144.html> date accessed 3/17/2022
International Olympic Committee. Beijing 2022 Facts and Figures. <https://olympics.com/ioc/beijing-2022-facts-and-figures> date accessed: 2/28/2022
International Olympic Committee. Tokyo 2020a. Olympic Games Tokyo Watched by more than 3 billion people. <https://olympics.com/ioc/news/olympic-games-tokyo-2020-watched-by-more-than-3-billion-people> date accessed 3/18/2022
International Olympic Committee. Tokyo 2020b. More Fans than Ever Connected to the Olympic Games. https://olympics.com/ioc/news/more-fans-than-ever-connected-to-the-olympic-games date accessed 3/18/2022
Nye, J. S. (2011). The future of power. Public Affairs. New York.
Contact: Zhao Xiaoli
Questioner: Hou Yunxi
Translator: Li Yuhan
Corrector: Xu houkun