The flood of applicants reflects the excitement that runs through China as Beijing prepares to become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics. It is an important point of national pride, evident in the grandiose official rhetoric and frequent state media coverage in the run-up to the Games.
Before the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, similar hordes of eager citizens signed up to volunteer, and state media reported more than 1.2 million applications.
Even as other countries in the region and the world begin to open up and “live with Covid,” Chinese officials show no signs of backing down in the face of strict measures and border closures in the pursuit of a virus-free country.
In recent weeks, a resurgence of the virus has seen cases reported in more than a third of China’s provinces and regions, prompting local governments to introduce severe travel restrictions and put millions of people under sudden lockdowns.
In some ways, the situation echoes the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics delayed by the pandemic, which were held earlier this year in the context of a Covid crisis in the host country. As athletes flocked to the Japanese capital from July to August, new cases skyrocketed daily and Tokyo came under a state of emergency.
There does not appear to be any of that reluctance in China, reflecting a reliance on the country’s Covid prevention measures, which are widely popular with the public.
Unlike the delay in vaccination before the Tokyo Olympics, China implemented its inoculation program with remarkable speed and efficiency. So far, more than 2.2 billion doses have been administered in mainland China, according to the country’s National Health Commission on Tuesday.
But the Beijing Games have not avoided controversy. Human rights activists have called on the United States and other democracies to boycott the event, citing alleged human rights abuses by Beijing in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied these claims.
International journalists have also criticized the organizers for a lack of transparency and access. On Tuesday, the China Foreign Correspondents Club said on Twitter that foreign journalists had been excluded from events, blocked from press conferences and prevented from reporting on the preparations.
But the controversy abroad hasn’t dampened enthusiasm at home. Even a grueling selection and training process has not deterred the army of young volunteers.
Then came the training. Since many of the competitions will be held outdoors in the snow, volunteers must complete physical assessments such as walking 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) across the country to train their endurance and cold resistance, Li said.
That’s just the beginning of their training, which will last until the end of the year for the 20,000 selected volunteers, according to the Global Times. The training program includes learning service etiquette, emergency care, Covid prevention strategies, and basic physical and psychological health care.
But for volunteers, little of that matters: The Olympics give them, and China, a triumphant moment in the global spotlight.
“The professionalism and passion of the volunteers from the 2008 Beijing Olympics are deeply ingrained in my memory, even though I was only a primary school student at the time,” Li told China Daily. “It is an honor to have the opportunity to emulate them.”