China's head of state and party leader Xi Jinping opened the so-called National Games this week in a packed stadium in Xi'an.

The major event with competitions in all Olympic disciplines takes place in China every four years.

This year it has a special meaning.

It is the most important test before the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in February 2022. Shortly after the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, the sports festival is also supposed to send a political message: China is better able than Japan to organize major events in times of the pandemic.

Friederike Böge

Political correspondent for China, North Korea and Mongolia.

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In the state media it is pointed out with relish that the opening ceremony and the competitions in Tokyo, unlike in Xi'an, took place in front of almost empty stands.

Even the number of athletes is presented as evidence of superiority.

Tokyo: 11.309.

Xi'an: more than 12,000.

The reports go unmentioned that the tickets for the opening ceremony could not be purchased.

Most of the participants were employees of state-owned companies.

In Xi'an it is heard that they had gone through a two-week quarantine beforehand.

Politicized shows

The celebration gave a foretaste of the politicization of sport in China, which can also be expected at the Olympic Games. For example, the athletes from Tibet were received by the stadium announcer with praise that the region was particularly keen to follow the Communist Party. The athletes from Xinjiang, where the Muslim population is massively suppressed, have been told that their region is currently at the highest level of development in its history.

One show related to the “Long March” of the Red Army, the founding myth of the People's Republic.

Host Province Shaanxi Party Secretary Liu Guozhong said the Xi'an Games are an important milestone on China's path to becoming a major sports power.

The people of Xi'an are not involved in the games, which run until the end of the month.

During the opening ceremony, a large area of ​​the newly built stadium was cordoned off.

Around two hundred residents had nevertheless gathered on the access road to take a look at the blue-lit stadium one kilometer away.

Pressure on officials

The competitions are advertised on large screens in the city, but there is no public viewing. Such uncontrolled gatherings are seen as a threat to public safety in China. Originally, Xi'an had hoped that the city's games could bring a tourism boom to the city. But important sights such as the Terracotta Army are currently closed. The organizers have decided not to advertise the competitions nationwide.

The provincial officials are under great pressure. The goal for the games was given as "zero infections". If it is missed, it would be a political problem. Although the infection process in China is largely under control due to the strict entry restrictions, a new outbreak has just recently occurred in the southeast Chinese province of Fujian, with 270 cases so far.