When Chinese leader Xi Jinping toured Beijing’s Winter Games venues in November, he expressed modest ambitions for the Olympics — that they be “Green, safe, and simple.” It was a pared-down vision, in stark contrast to the pomp and circumstance of the country’s 2008 Summer Games and its $42 billion price tag.
According to official tallies, at least, Beijing appeared to keep with Xi’s mission. With a price tag of $3.9 billion, the 2022 Beijing Olympics are, on paper, the least expensive Games in the last two decades. But questions have arisen as to whether China accurately reported how much it has spent to make the global athletic competition happen. Insider’s investigation into the numbers revealed that the actual sum is in excess of $38.5 billion, 10 times the official budget, according to Insider.
China’s lack of transparency might have given it bragging rights, with the state-linked mediatouting claims of the country’s immense “strength” and ability to host a mega-sporting event at a fraction of the price of the Tokyo Summer Games and the Sochi Olympics. But this claim is inaccurate at best and a gross underestimation of just how much it takes for countries to host the Games.
China, he continued, isn’t “talking about the transportation infrastructure. They’re not talking about the sporting infrastructure. They’re not talking about the cost of building the Olympic village. And so any so-called official numbers or budgetary figures that come out of any of these games is highly suspect,” Zimbalist added.
There are dozens of line items left off Beijing’s official tally, Insider found.
For one, conspicuously absent from Beijing’s current list of costs is the National Speed Skating Oval. Also known as the Ice Ribbon, it was completed in 2020 and estimated in 2017 to cost the government around $186.6 million to build. It also repurposed several venues constructed for the 2008 Games, including the Bird’s Nest, Beijing’s national stadium, and the Water Cube, the city’s aquatics center. However, it’s unclear how much China spent to refurbish the venues.
Many of China’s biggest ticket items fall under the category of “capital improvements,” which the International Olympics Committee classifies as separate from other types of Games expenses.
Many of China’s capital improvements have centered on Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, two satellite locations for the Games.
China converted Yanqing, a district in northwest Beijing, into a glistening series of arenas with an alpine ski center and a separate Olympic Village to accommodate over 1,400 athletes and officials. A second Olympic Village in Beijing’s city center designed to house around 2,300 athletes cost an estimated $3.16 billion, according to 2019 figures.
The country spent an estimated $442.9 million to construct bobsled, skeleton, luge, and alpine skiing venues in Yanqing. Separately, Xinhua reported, two dozen unnamed corporations donated an additional $514.1 million to Yanqing’s development, though this amount was billed as cash investments to develop the district.
Building out Olympics satellite locations also requires a robust transportation infrastructure. So China spruced up Zhangjiakou’s Ningyuan airport at the cost of $205.6 million andpumped $15.02 billion into building new highways to ensure connectivity between the satellite areas just in time for the Olympics.
China poured another $5.18 billion into building 50 projects related to its Olympic venues in Zhangjiakou, a city of around 1.5 million that’s known as “the Gateway to Beijing.” One of those projects is the country’s third Olympic village, which will house an additional 2,640 people. It also contains competition venues like the Genting Snow Park, the National Biathlon Center, the National Ski Jumping Center, and the National Cross-Country Center.
And the country spent another $9.2 billion on a driverless bullet train designed to ferry passengers between Zhangjiakou and Beijing within 50 minutes, down from an initial travel time of three hours.