International Olympic Committee (IOC) evaluators began a five-day inspection tour of Beijing’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics yesterday, in a key test of the city’s status as a front-runner in the competition for hosting rights.
Following meetings, the 19-member Evaluation Commission was visiting Beijing’s indoor sites for hockey, skating and curling, along with the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium used for the 2008 Summer Games. Later in the week, they are scheduled to check proposed skiing and sliding venues further outside the city.
Beijing is competing against Almaty, Kazakhstan, and is seeking to become the first city to host both the summer and winter Games.
Chinese organizers say Beijing hosting the Games would be a boon for winter sports globally by raising their profile in the world’s most populous nation. Most of the proposed venues are left over from the 2008 Games, leading to significant cost savings in keeping with the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 goals for more frugal, athlete-oriented Games adopted last year.
In all, Beijing plans to spend US$3.9 billion on infrastructure and operations, a small fraction of the US$51 billion spent by Russia on last year’s Sochi Games.
The inspectors concluded a visit to Almaty last month, after which Kazakh organizers announced venue changes they say will make the games more efficient and save more than US$500 million.
The IOC is scheduled to select the host city on July 31 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The Chinese government has pledged full support for the 2022 bid and will provide solid financial and legal guarantees, Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong told evaluators at a ceremony yesterday morning.
Evaluation Commission chairman Alexander Zhukov noted the bid’s incorporation of some of the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms.
“You have maximized the use of existing world-class sports venues; you have taken advantage of your experience,” Zhukov said in a speech at the ceremony.
In a reminder of Beijing’s serious air pollution problems, the benchmark PM2.5 air quality reading topped 150 around midday yesterday, more than six times what the WHO considers safe.
Beijing organizers plan to tackle the problem by closing factories and coal-fired power plants, and junking heavily polluting vehicles. Holding the Olympics would put added momentum behind those efforts, they say.
Other concerns include a lack of natural snow and the roughly 200km distance between Beijing’s indoor venues and those where Nordic skiing and other outdoor events would be held. Work has already begun on a high-speed rail line that is expected to reduce travel time from Beijing’s northern suburbs to just 50 minutes.
Pro-Tibetan and human rights groups also argue that China’s record of abuses should rule Beijing out as candidate, citing the IOC’s strengthened support for basic human rights embedded in the 2020 Agenda. Rights groups have also called for Kazakhstan’s record to be scrutinized.
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