Serge Koenig

Monday 26 January 2015

Serge Koenig, French Vice-Consul in Chengdu responsible for mountain-related matters and Director of the Alpes-Sichuan Cooperation Programme.

Montagne Ambition: On 5 November 2013, the Chinese Olympic Committee officially announced the joint bid by Beijing and Zhangjiakou for the 2022 Winter Games. Do you feel a national effervescence associated with this project?

Serge Koenig: The 24th Winter Olympic Games will be held in 2022; that is too far away for national mobilisation at this stage. But the very fact that Beijing is short-listed and recognised as the favourite over Almaty (Kazakhstan) has acted as an accelerator for the development of mountain sports and tourism in China
To illustrate, last September Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang presided over a conference of the State Council in Beijing on the development, promotion and popularisation of sports and welfare activities. A decree was subsequently issued to encourage this rise in sports consumption, based particularly on winter sports and other activities "admired by the public" such as ski-touring, bicycling, and water and aerial sports… Could climbing and mountaineering fit in here? This is a dynamic which drives the development of economies which encourage mountain activities, and the Chinese bid for the Winter Games clearly lies behind it.
There are increasing numbers of projects, especially in the areas expected to host the games. The loans granted will be considerable and networks of influence are already mobilising. Major investors are already at work in anticipation of the IOC announcement of the winning city in July 2015. Countries with a winter sports tradition are competing to offer new partnerships with their experience and know-how; the economic, industrial and technical issues surrounding the event are already being played out.

这无疑为促进山地娱乐产业的经济发展注入了活力,而且显然是以中国申办冬   奥会为大背景。© S. Koenig

Montagne Ambition: Does China see the Games as having a bearing on all its areas of interest, especially geopolitical matters?

Serge Koenig: This world-wide display of sport fits perfectly with China's long-term policy, which was started by Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s and is still at the heart of the country's reform and economic take-off: to restore to China the rank of world superpower which it held in in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Middle Kingdom had the biggest population and the strongest economy in the world.
Big events like Expo 2010, the 2008 Olympic Games and the 2022 Winter Games (if Beijing-Zhangjiakou is selected) are a showcase of China's modernity, built on its tremendous economic boom over recent decades. They act as a powerful projection of the image of contemporary China.
So China has reached a point where it likes to think in superlatives: the biggest, the highest and the fastest - which is a reference to the Olympic motto. We have only to think back to the time when France dreamed of building a railway to the summit of Mont Blanc, the world's highest cable-cars and biggest dams... Now it is China's turn to dream of conquest, in the terms of the 21st century and of its place in the world. Confirming the success of the 2008 Games in a new set of sports by becoming the first city to have hosted both the summer and the winter olympics is a seductive ambition for the country and for its capital.


Montagne Ambition: What are the advantages and the political gains expected of the event? Can it be seen as a continuation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics?

© S. KoenigSerge Koenig:The Games have always been a catalyst for the international image of the host country on the one hand, and its infrastructure and development on the other. Think of the 1968 Winter Olympics in the French Alps, when major infrastructure investments opened up the mountains, creating a huge, sustainable recreational area. Grenoble became the "centre of the world" during the period of the games. And the whole region became synonymous with "winter sports holidays". The resulting economic growth influenced development throughout the region. This was the beginning of the democratisation of winter sports, and it was also helped along by the image of France as a winner, with the three gold medals won by Jean-Claude Killy in downhill events.
After the 2008 Olympics in China, many voices were heard saying that they were the best organised games ever. Beijing left nothing to chance, the facilities were superb and the organisation was impeccable. The Chinese authorities could congratulate themselves on a successful outcome, starting from the sports angle with a clutch of broken world records and the emergence of China as a great sporting nation, the first to win more medals than USA and Russia.
The 2008 Games were also a success politically. Security at the games was perfect. The vast majority of the Chinese were enthusiastic and proud of their country. And China also managed its communications and its world image perfectly. I remember the criticism voiced abroad before the Games, which fell silent as the Olympic flame was lit in the main stadium.
China's Olympic venture was a success from every point of view… and this underpins its bid for the 2022 Winter Games. It fits perfectly with the logic of serving at once China's image in sport and its image, influence and status in the world.


Montagne Ambition: What effects do you think the Beijing and Zhangjiakou Winter Olympics will have on the environment and local communities?


Serge Koenig:Going back to 2008, the Games led for example to the relocation of polluting factories ; and both the centre of Beijing and the Olympic area were cleaned up. Renewable energy systems were introduced in the Olympic Village. A green belt covering 163 km was created around the city; cleaner fuels were adopted, with new vehicle emissions standards; a new wind power plant was built, capable of generating 100 million kWh per year; public transport was improved with 4,000 buses powered by compressed natural gas, plus five new metro lines; 32,000 households received subsidies to switch from coal to electricity consumption; waste water treatment plants were optimised; restricted smoking areas were introduced, etc. All these positive effects for the environment and the population were directly connected with the 2008 Olympic Games. Of course, the potentially negative effects must not be ignored; ways should be found to reduce them by finding better solutions.
In any case, the authorities are confident that they will be awarded the 2022 Winter Games, and that they will be capable of promoting new measures, particularly to reduce the air pollution in Beijing which will be exacerbated by consumption for heating; and to find additional water sources for the lead-up to and the period of the games. I think that bidding for an international event with a fixed date is a very strong, bold commitment, because you set yourself an agenda and a deadline to produce results with the world looking on.
These games should lead to great socio-economic progress in Zhangjiakou and Chongli county in particular. They lie in underdeveloped, rural territory in Hebei province, 220km from Beijing. There is already a highway connecting Beijing to the area. The journey takes 4 hours by car. A High-Speed Rail service is planned, opening in 2017, which will reduce the journey time to 40 minutes. A dam holding 5 million m3 of water is under construction to guarantee water supply, principally for residential use and the production of artificial snow. The projects involve city planning, building and the extension of existing ski areas. Based on their experience in 2008, the authorities also know that it will be easier to convert the installations for public and tourism use based on ice and snow sports after the winter games.

有益于环境和民生的正面效应如此之 多,都与2008奥运会直接相关。© S. Koenig

Montagne Ambition: Do you think that the 2022 Winter Olympics could help to democratise winter sports in China?

Serge Koenig:It is obvious that the Chinese, like people elsewhere in the world, are and will be fascinated by the magic of slipping over the snow. For example, I see the growing success of Chengdu in south west China (Sichuan), which started with a simple ski-park with an artificial slope. This type of artificial installation in the city centre, like artificial climbing walls or free-fall simulators, allows people to learn during the whole year. They can improve their technique, and they will be encouraged to go on to try the "full-scale" sport. The Chinese population is increasingly adventurous and thirsty for new experiences, and such a major event as the 2022 Winter Games will motivate them as never before to try skiing or snow-boarding on real snow.
Zhangjiakou, where two thirds of the winter games events will be held, is already the principal winter sports destination in China, especially for the inhabitants of Beijing. There are four individual resorts (Wanlong, Yunding, Duolemei and Changchengling), and a fifth is under construction (Taiwu). The client base in the immediate proximity is almost inexhaustible, with more than 30 million potential customers in the city. The site currently has 82 lifts and 69km of pistes. It is planning to increase these to 230 lifts and 500km of pistes by 2020. And Zhangjiakou and Chongli are of course looking forward to their turn as the "centre of the world" during the games in 2022.


Montagne Ambition: Could China become a great skiing nation, like France, Austria and United States? Do you think this is a medium or long term objective?

Serge Koenig:I do not doubt for one moment that China could become a great skiing nation in terms of her potential to produce great winter sports champions in the future. Sites like Zhangjiakou could build their national and international fame on a solid winter sports culture.
But with respect to climate, things are a bit different; because in the world context China does not have the same natural resources as the Alpine countries or North America in terms of snow and water, which are essential for the mass development of winter sports. Currently most of the resorts are located in the north-east of the country, with a continental and Siberian climate requiring artificial snow. And then there are questions about global warming and climate change, and their potential medium term impact on the skiing industry everywhere in the world.
You know, two thirds of the surface of China is covered by mountains, with differing latitudes, altitudes and climates. With my experience of more than 30 years in the mountains, I think that many of China's mountain ranges offer very promising prospects for the development of tourism and recreational sports. This will incorporate winter sports into a logic of year-round tourism, with the winter season representing a niche which could be generated in the world economy. And a niche on the scale of China could be considerable.

这意味着我们具备坚实的经验基础,能够以2022年冬奥会为预期,建立起一种特殊的法中合作伙伴关系。 © S. Koenig

Montagne Ambition: We already have an Alpes-Sichuan cooperation programme which is helping to develop exchanges between the French Alps and Sichuan province; do you think that an Alpes-Hebei cooperation programme could appear to develop contacts in advance of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games?

Serge Koenig:We have actually already been approached by people involved in the 2022 Olympics project, because although it is based Chengdu, Alpes-Sichuan is recognised throughout China as a "mountain service" which is connected to the French diplomatic network. Last summer I had a meeting with the Zhangjiakou authorities at which we discussed setting up an Alpes-Zhangjiakou office, as well as taking the opportunity to think about a space for promoting French know-how.
It must be remembered that France's Olympic experience began in 1924 with the organisation of the first ever Winter Olympic Games at Chamonix Mont Blanc. This was followed by the Grenoble Winter Games in 1968, and Alberville in 1992. We have a vast network of very competitive businesses in the international market which cover all the sectors necessary for organising the games and developing a winter sports economy: engineering companies, equipment manufacturers, operator-managers, trainers, safety for big events, etc. This represents a solid foundation of experience on which to build a privileged Sino-French partnership in advance of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
A cooperation office at Zhangjiakou with a more regular French presence on the ground would certainly favour contacts. If the Mountain Industry Cluster were to receive Chinese Olympic delegations in the French Alps, that would also be very useful for sharing our expertise on the subject and showing them our Olympic sites.

And finally, I believe strongly in indirect commercial approaches and cooperation, for example by helping with the training of future Chinese champions. That would be an excellent way of showing our Chinese partners that we are committed to helping them in their Olympic venture. Besides, the French mountain industry has already contributed in its way to the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008: that year the Olympic flame was carried to the summit of Everest, at 8848m, by mountaineers from the Lhassa High Mountain Guides School trained in the Alps in the framework of a cooperation agreement with the National Skiing and Mountaineering School at Chamonix.


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