Team GB aiming for record-breaking Winter Olympics at Beijing 2022 Games

ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward hears how Team GB are preparing for Beijing 2022 and are well aware of the controversies surrounding the Games

Team GB say they are confident the Beijing 2022 Games will go ahead as planned, and China will put on a safe and secure event.

We spoke to the Chef de Mission Georgina Harland one month before she arrives in the Chinese capital. She told us there has been no hesitancy among the athletes despite the Covid restrictions they will be facing, and the rise in Omicron cases. On Wednesday, the North American National Hockey League announced it would not be sending any players due to a Covid outbreak which has prompted the suspension of several NHL games.

The Zhangjiakou ski slopes are preparing for the start of the Games, which opens in February.

But Harland, a former Olympian herself, said the focus for Team GB remains on qualifying.

There are qualification events going on right up until January 21, so it will be down to the wire that the final team is confirmed. With the opening ceremony on February 4. At the last Winter Games in South Korea, Great Britain took home a record-equalling five medals. The chef de mission (head of the team) wouldn’t be drawn on a target for this year but said there will be more athletes competing across more disciplines. A particular focus appears to have been placed on snow sports with more money than ever before being invested in ski and snowboarding events and facilities. It has risen from £2million in 2014 to £11.1million for these Games in Beijing.

Beijing will be the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

Among the athletes benefitting from the greater funding and attention on GB snow sports is Charlotte Bankes.

She’s one to watch at Beijing 2022 - she is a snowboarding world champion and won gold in the Big event at the World Cup last weekend. The skeleton is also one to watch out for, with veteran Lizzy Yarnold going for her third gold at a Winter Games.

Team GB's Lizzy Yarnold (pictured) is the most successful Olympic skeleton athlete of all time from any nation. Credit: AP

It’s not just the pandemic which have thrown the Beijing 2022 in doubt. Human rights organisations have been demanding a boycott of the competition. A full boycott was never on the cards but the UK has joined allied nations in a diplomatic boycott of the Games. They have taken a stand over China’s human rights record in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong.

The Chinese government has described the move as against the Olympic spirit and an attempt to politicise sport. Team GB says its athletes are aware of the political situation, but their focus and responsibility is on competing. The chef de mission told me the athletes know the rule book and won’t be stopped from commenting on the boycott or any other subject should the wish to do so.

Team GB Chef de Mission Georgina Harland said the athletes are "aware" of the situation but "their focus and responsibility is on competing"

There has still been no official announcement from Beijing regarding ticket sales, only confirmation that tickets will be sold exclusively to those residing in China.

It means that for a second Olympics there will be no friends, family, or travelling fans, there to support the British competitors.

Just as they did in Tokyo the organising committee will be arranging for video links at specific events to connect athletes with their nearest and dearest at their time of competition. When the whole world is facing similar challenges, the athletes say they hope it will be the sport that shines in Beijing and they can deliver us all a much needed lift in spirits.