Ming, retired Chinese professional basketball player
smiles during a press conference for Beijing 2022
Olympic bid in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday,
July 29, 2015. Malaysia is hosting the 128th
International Olympic Committee executive board
meeting where the vote for the host cities of the
2022 Olympic Winter Games and for the 2020 Youth
Olympic Winter Games will take place.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia —
When it comes to votes on Olympic host cities, geopolitics
can play a crucial role in determining the victor.
That's likely to be the
case more than ever Friday when the International Olympic
Committee chooses between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan,
for the 2022 Winter Games.
It's a contest between
China, the world's most populous nation and a rising
global giant with a huge economy, against a young country
and former Soviet republic in Central Asia that is hoping
to establish itself as a player on the world stage.
Against that backdrop and
after a low-key campaign, Beijing goes in as the strong
favorite as it bids to become the first city to host both
summer and winter games.
"The general feeling
is that Almaty may do a little better than most people
would have thought," IOC vice president Craig Reedie
told The Associated Press on Thursday. "You have to
believe the sheer weight of Chinese influence on a
worldwide basis may be enough to swing them over the
Neither Beijing nor Almaty
was given much of a chance of landing the games when the
2022 bid race opened two years ago. But they found
themselves as the only two candidates left after four
European cities — including Oslo and Stockholm —
pulled out for political or financial reasons. Some were
scared off the by the $51 billion price tag associated
with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
If Friday's vote among 86
IOC members were strictly on technical merits, Almaty
would have an advantage because of its winter sports
history and setting, surrounded by mountain peaks covered
by plenty of natural snow — hence the slogan
"Keeping it Real." Almaty boasts 70 percent of
venues in place and a compact layout with all venues
within a 30-kilometer (18-mile) radius.
"We have a lot of
challenges in Kazakhstan," Prime Minister Karim
Massimov said. "But snow is our advantage."
Beijing would use several
venues from the 2008 Summer Olympics, including the
'Bird's Nest' stadium and 'Water Cube' arena.
everything," former NBA star and Beijing bid team
member Yao Ming said. "Beijing 2008 allowed us to
experience the Olympic spirit, and 2022 gives us a chance
to carry on the spirit."
Beijing's mountain events
would be held at venues in Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, 60 and
140 kilometers (40 and 90 miles) away from the city. A
planned high-speed rail line to Zhangjiakou is designed to
cut travel time to 50 minutes.
In contrast to Almaty,
Beijing would rely heavily on artificial snow. Chinese
officials said they have plenty of water supplies and
snow-making equipment to provide excellent conditions.
Weighing in Beijing's favor
is the IOC's familiarity with China from the 2008 Games
and trust that the Chinese can deliver. China's pitch to
develop winter sports to a market of more than 300 million
people in northern China also plays well with the IOC, as
does the country's political and economic stability.
Lesser familiar Kazakhstan, whose 75-year-old president,
Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been in power since 1989, is
seen as more of a risk by many IOC members.
Both countries have been
criticized for their human rights records. Watchdog groups
have called on the IOC to ensure that the winning bid
upholds new clauses in the host city contract on
non-discrimination and protection of rights during the
IOC votes can be
unpredictable, as members vote often for individual
reasons. This is especially the case when it comes to the
Winter Games, as a majority of the members have little
connection with winter sports. Many members are more
interested in the race for the 2024 Summer Games, which
has cities like Paris and Rome in contention but lost one
candidate this week when Boston pulled out amid a lack of
public and political support.
Almaty is bidding for a
second time, but this is the first time it made it to the
vote after being cut in the preliminary stage for the 2014
Games. Securing the Olympics would represent a major step
in raising its global profile.
"In the international
arena, we can place Kazakhstan on the map and place Almaty
on the international sports map," Massimov, the prime
minister, told a small group of reporters.
"Twenty-five years ago we were part of the Soviet
Union. We had a different image. We want to change the
image. We want the international audience to understand
better what we are doing and where we heading in the