The Beijing Winter Olympics are slated to begin in exactly one month, on February 4.
But that they will happen as planned seems less certain than ever.
Canadian Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), recently told CBC News the postponement was not being considered.
“Unless something apocalyptic happens in the next three or four weeks, I don’t see it as a real threat,” he said.
But on Friday, Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) CEO David Shoemaker told CBC Sports’ Scott Russell on Friday that he was “worried” that the Beijing Games would go as planned, given the growing spread of the Omicron variant.
“We haven’t had a conversation with the IOC yet about the postponement, but we have very frequent conversations with participating nations in winter sports and it just might happen,” said Shoemaker.
On December 7, another key Olympic executive also said the postponement was not on the table. But for reference, Canada reported 2,961 new cases of COVID-19 that day. As of Friday, that number exceeded 41,000.
WATCH | Shoemaker discusses Canada’s plans for Beijing:
Not only are the Games themselves at the limit. Even as they continue, many questions remain unanswered with just 31 days until the opening ceremony.
Here’s what we know and don’t know else:
We know Beijing organizers designed a closed-loop system contain all Olympians, related personnel and media in a bubble limited to competition venues, training facilities, transportation and living spaces. Only local spectators will be allowed at competitions, which means family and friends of athletes must stay at home. The plan is part of the Olympic Games COVID-19 playbook, compiled by the IOC and Beijing organizers to contain the virus and hold the competition safely.
We know the system is stricter than Tokyo 2020, which allowed some movement outside of his bubble and complete freedom after two weeks of repeated negative tests. The Summer Olympics were mostly unaffected, with relatively few cases reported. However, the Omicron variant is much more transmissible than the Delta variant, which was predominant in the summer.
We know two remarkable groups of people will not be in Beijing: diplomatic representatives of Canada and the United States among other countries, and NHL players. The former will not participate because of concerns about human rights violations against ethnic minorities in China; the latter due to disruptions to the regular season schedule, making an Olympic break infeasible, according to the league.
We know that some Canadian athletes are already at risk. Fourteen members of the bobsleigh team recently tested positive, while the announcement of the women’s hockey team was delayed and the mixed doubles curling trials were canceled due to positive tests among the athletes. For all those affected, there are now even more hurdles to overcome before the Olympics.
“I would say the biggest risk, which is prevalent around the world, is that Canada might have a few positive people and we just don’t let them get on a plane to China,” Pound said.
WATCH | Pound says deferral is not an option:
We know that a positive test in Beijing could hamper competition. Those who are asymptomatic are sent to an isolation center, where they need two negative tests 24 hours apart to leave – enough time to rule an athlete out of competition. The replacement system differs between sports and events. However, a theoretical mogul race without Mikaël Kingsbury or a figure skating final without Nathan Chen would certainly lose some of their luster.
We don’t know who will represent Team Canada. Besides women’s hockey and mixed doubles curling, other sports have also been affected by postponements and cancellations, complicating the qualification process. Final athlete nominations must be sent to the COC by January 19 and submitted to the Beijing organizers five days later. The only Olympians confirmed so far are curling rinks Jennifer Jones and Brad Gushue, who won the Olympic trials in November.
We know that Canadian officials need to be fully immunized. It’s not an Olympic-wide mandate, although the unvaccinated must serve a three-week quarantine in China before entering the bubble. The COC’s announcement came in October, meaning booster shots were not part of the equation at the time. More than 95% of the Canadian delegation in Tokyo were fully vaccinated and the team did not report any cases of the virus.
We don’t know how many medals Canada will win. Obviously. But Gracenote, a data-driven projection company, predicts Canada will land on 23 podiums, including seven gold medals. He says six of them will come from freestyle skiing – a seemingly safe bet after Canada won five medals in two World Cup races in Calgary this weekend.
Of course, all of this assumes that these Olympics go as planned. And with only a month to go, we don’t even know about it.