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SALT LAKE CITY — Nothing will keep Beijing's 2022 Winter Games from starting as planned next February, International Olympic Committee officials said Tuesday despite concerns about the new COVID-19 omicron variant — and a diplomatic boycott by the United States.
"The answer is no," Spanish IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch, head of the commission overseeing preparations for the Chinese Olympics, told reporters when asked if there were any circumstances under which the Games could be postponed due to the new variant.
Although the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo were postponed a year because of COVID-19, Samaranch, whose father led the IOC during Salt Lake City's scandal-tainted bid for the 2002 Winter Games, said Beijing organizers "have prepared for any possible contingency."
Foreign spectators have already been barred from attending the Olympics in China, just as they were by Japan, but a decision has not yet been made on whether Chinese citizens will be able to buy tickets given the recent emergence of the new omicron variant.
During a virtual news conference following the first of three days of IOC Executive Board meetings in Switzerland, Samaranch also briefly addressed U.S. President Joe Biden's announcement Monday that U.S. officials would not attend the Beijing Games.
The protest of China's human rights record, backed by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, head of the 2002 Winter Games, and other members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, does not extend to athletes.
"We have to respect the decision, a political decision," Samaranch said, by the United States and any other nations that might join the diplomatic boycott, because the IOC itself seeks the "least possible interference" from the political world.
He also expressed hope that no athletes would be kept from attending the Beijing Games by a boycott, as happened in 1980 when the U.S. and many other countries skipped the Summer Games in Moscow because of the then-Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
"We are extremely proud, happy and hopeful that all the athletes of the world, the best winter athletes of the world, will have the opportunity for peace and friendship and brotherhood in the Olympic village," Samaranch said.
The boycott comes as Utah is bidding to bring a Winter Games back to the state, in 2030 or 2034. Leaders of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games said Monday they're still planning to go to Beijing during the Olympics as observers.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Tuesday he hasn't talked to the bid committee about the trip.
It's very possible to say we disagree with the government there, with what they're doing ... and also say we support the Olympic movement, which stands for the things that we believe in.
"Everyone who's interested in bidding on the Olympics goes to the Olympics to see what is happening and to learn from what's going on there, so we still need a little time to understand what that boycott means for our state," the governor said.
Pressed, Cox said the bid effort will "have to recalibrate, have a conversation, understand exactly what that boycott means for our state and see how we can continue to support the Olympic movement."
But he added, "It's very possible to say we disagree with the government there, with what they're doing, the way they're treating that minority population, and also say we support the Olympic movement, which stands for the things that we believe in, right? Supporting one another, coming together as humanity. So we'll be working through that."
Because of COVID-19, the bid committee had to settle for a virtual meeting Monday with IOC President Thomas Bach, of Germany, and staff about the organization's new, informal process for selecting a host, but expect to head to Switzerland sometime next year.
At least four other cities and countries are interested in hosting the Winter Games in 2030 or beyond — Vancouver, Canada; Sapporo, Japan; Barcelona, Spain and the Pyrenees mountain region; and Ukraine.
Bach has spoken out against boycotts in the past, saying they haven't worked and that "some just do not want to learn anything from history."
In a new interview with the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur promoted by the IOC, Bach said the IOC's "responsibility is to run the Games" and bring together athletes from around the world to compete.
"Going beyond this, expecting that Olympic Games can fundamentally change a country, its political system or its laws, is a completely exaggerated expectation. The Olympics cannot solve problems that generations of politicians have not solved," he said.
Asked about the U.S. diplomatic boycott in the interview conducted before it was announced by the White House, the IOC president said, "This is a purely political discussion. Also in this question, the IOC lives up to its political neutrality."
He said the IOC has "to live up to our responsibilities related to the Games. That also means: no discrimination, freedom of the press, open internet, freedom of expression for the athletes."
While Bach said the IOC is in "close contact" with Beijing Games organizers on those issues, he added, "The IOC does not have the power and the means to change political systems. The political neutrality of the IOC and the Games applies here."
Contributing: Katie McKellar