A spectator’s lone shot echoed through the nearly empty National Aquatics Center after the British curling team knocked a Swiss stone out of position, a difficult move that usually sparked cheers from fans.
The spectator looked around at the audience of around 200 people, surrounded by thousands of vacant seats, and stopped applauding.
Midway through ten rounds of curling, as the teams shouted in Russian, Norwegian, Swedish, French, Dutch and Italian, the crowd shrank even further as more than half got up and left for another event: the gift shop had opened.
Skiing, skating and other competitions take place in front of global TV audiences, but limited crowds see them in person after China, which enforces strict virus controls, decided not to sell tickets or allow spectators coming from abroad.
Instead, organizers said they would invite 150,000 people, including school children, diplomats, business people and what the organizing committee called “winter sports enthusiasts“. It was somewhat of a departure from the Tokyo Games last summer, where pandemic protocols kept most venues virtually empty. An Associated Press reporter was among a handful of Beijing-based reporters invited by the Foreign Ministry to watch the curling on Monday.
Organizers gave few details, but foreign chambers of commerce and employees of Olympic sponsor companies said they had received invitations to the Feb. 4 opening ceremony.
People who attended the ceremony and sporting events were required to receive a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine as a booster, present two negative viral tests before the events and take two additional tests afterwards.
Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said he had been invited but could not attend because it was too early to receive a reminder. Wuttke said he would watch on TV.
The American Chamber of Commerce in China said it sent a delegation to the opening ceremony. The British Chamber of Commerce in China said it had been asked to share invitations with its network.
Spectators are given N95 masks and arrive at venues on buses as volunteers dressed in blue parkas and white hats salute. Guards check foreign passports or Chinese ID cards. Spectators are required to show a smartphone app that tracks their movements and health status. They pass through metal detectors and are scanned for fever indicative of the coronavirus.
Cameras, computers, pens, selfie sticks or outside food and drink are prohibited.
Inside sports venues, spectators are kept in separate areas from athletes, journalists and sports officials. They are only six meters (20 feet) away but are in areas dubbed “the bubble” which are believed to have no contact with strangers.
During the curling competition, spectators were separated by empty seats. In an anti-coronavirus measure, signs at competition venues tell spectators in Chinese and English, “NO CHEERING”. At the gift shop, Olympic mascot Bing Dwen Dwen’s plush toys and children’s clothing were sold out, but paperweights shaped like curling stones, binoculars and clothes, jewelry and pins on the Olympic Games theme were available.
In an email response to questions, the Beijing organizing committee said spectators would be organized by their communities, employers and winter sports associations.
Gao Jia, an employee of a sponsor, received a ticket for the opening ceremony. She said participants gathered at a hotel for a security check, were taken to Olympic Park on the north side of Beijing and walked three kilometers (two miles) to the National Stadium.
“We were quite tired, but the excitement made up for it all,” she said. “When we walked in, everything had turned blue. We felt, wow, it was worth it.” Gao said afterwards that she had to stay home for a week. She asked that her business not be identified by name.
Employees of other Olympic sponsor companies, including Bank of China Ltd. and social media platform Sina Weibo, said they were offered tickets.
A woman wrote on Sina Weibo that her company received three tickets and more than 70 employees requested them. The post did not identify the company and the user did not respond to a message from AP.
By the end of Monday’s curling, Great Britain, Canada, Denmark and Sweden had beaten Italy, Norway, Russia and Switzerland to advance to the next round.
The teams quietly walked off the ice to a round of applause in the nearly empty arena.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)