Almaty narrows gap on Beijing in 2022 Olympics race

Kuala Lumpur: Beijing and Almaty today embarked on a frantic final lobbying campaign for the 2022 Winter Olympics ahead of a decision this week on the winner.

High level delegations from China and Kazakhstan are in Kuala Lumpur where the International Olympic Committee will hold a secret ballot on Friday to decide between the two rivals.  The Games are guaranteed to go to Asia for the second time in a row after 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But Almaty has been gaining ground in recent weeks against the Chinese capital which has been considered overwhelming favourite for several months.

Beijing has thrown its heavyweight lobbying power into securing the Games, highlighting its successful staging of the 2008 summer Olympics and its deep pockets.  Its team in Kuala Lumpur includes Yao Ming, the giant former NBA star. But the oil rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan also has cash and has impressed with its promise of a “real” Olympics with all of the facilities and plenty of snow within 33 kilometres (20 miles) of its former capital. China is considered a safe bet. And if it wins, Beijing will become the first city to host the summer and winter Olympics. President Xi Jinping has said that holding the 2022 games “ignite the passion” for winter sports among a new generation of Chinese.

But Chongli, where the Olympic village is proposed, is more than 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Beijing and some venues are 200 kilometres away. The Alpine ski venue at Yanqing will need artificial snow to put on the contest. Almaty played on China’s lack of snow with its “Keeping it Real” slogan that impressed IOC members who went on an inspection visit in June. “There are two bids in the contest. China are favourites but they can still be beaten,” said one IOC member, speaking on condition of anonymity.

We have two excellent candidates,” IOC president Thomas Bach said last week on a visit to Moscow. “The choice will not be easy.” The race for the 2022 Winter Olympics has changed dramatically in the past year. Once there were six candidates. But Oslo, Stockholm, Krakow in Poland and Lviv in Ukraine withdrew because of public fears over the cost. Russia spent more than $50 billion on the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2012 but the IOC has since passed reforms aiming to bring down the cost and make the Olympics more sustainable.

Beijing and Almaty both say their budgets will be under $4 billion. The IOC’s main worry about Almaty is any fallout from the collapse of the international oil price. The lack of candidates means there is much less attention on the human rights records of the authoritarian governments in contention. The IOC has other concerns about Asian Olympics to deal with before it gets to the vote. The IOC executive will hold a three day meeting starting Tuesday likely to be dominated by the Japanese government’s decision to scrap its design for a two billion dollar stadium for the 2020 summer Olympics and start a new contest.

“We understand that the review of the stadium will not affect its delivery for the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said John Coates, head of the IOC coordination committee for the Tokyo Games in a veiled warning to the Japanese organisers not to go back on promises for the stadium. The IOC executive is also to give its rubber stamp backing to the recognition of South Sudan as a member, which will be formally voted by the IOC full session on August 2.

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