On the day of the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, there were reportedly more transactions made in China’s central bank digital currency (CBDC) than through Visa.
In a Wednesday report from the Wall Street Journal, a person familiar with the matter said transactions in digital yuan significantly outnumbered those of Visa on Friday at the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest — the location of the opening ceremony of the 34th Olympic Winter Games. However, many of the retailers allowing purchases with China’s central bank digital currency, the digital yuan — or e-CNY — were outside the Olympics’ quarantine “bubble” for athletes, journalists, and staff.
According to the report, those within the bubble have the option of paying for goods or services with cash, Visa and digital yuan, and there are many automated machines allowing people to exchange fiat currency for e-CNY. Coupled with the likely intention of reducing contact between individuals in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it seems the country’s digital currency is pulling ahead of Visa — at least, in an environment with limited use cases that includes participation from Chinese consumers.
“Replacing cash with digital yuan for payment can effectively reduce direct contact between people and the risk of the spread of COVID-19,” reported s the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Games.
Though payments using mobile apps like Alipay, WeChat Pay and others are generally accepted at many retailers in China, these methods aren’t allowed at the Winter Games due to an exclusivity contract with Visa. The credit card company has reportedly not pushed back against the digital yuan payment options, possibly because it is awaiting approval of a domestic license application to operate in China.
CNN reported on Jan. 31 that the first international test run of China’s CBDC is facing hurdles due to the pandemic, with officials limiting the number of people allowed to enter the country. Though China hasn’t released data on the number of digital yuan transactions or athletes using the CBDC, U.S. lawmakers have warned Americans participating in the games of the potential dangers of testing the digital currency, which include a threat to U.S. interests in cross-border payments.
At the time of publication, Cointelegraph was unable to find any reports of athletes claiming to have used the digital yuan for food or other essentials. The Wall Street Journal reported both the president of the Dutch Olympic Committee and a former Beijing resident, now involved in television coverage of the games implied there was little point in using the digital currency when Visa was available. The Winter Olympics are scheduled to conclude on Feb. 20.