Seeking to cut into Beijing’s status as favorite, leaders of the Kazakh bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics yesterday told the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Almaty presents the ideal choice that offers a “real” winter setting with plenty of natural snow.
With the vote less than two months away, Almaty leaders also portrayed their bid as being perfectly in tune with the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 reform program, which calls for affordable games and maximum use of existing venues.
“They certainly nailed the bit about snow,” IOC vice president Craig Reedie of Britain told reporters. “They had pictures of people climbing through three feet [0.91m] of snow.”
Almaty and Beijing made presentations at a “technical briefing” at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne attended by 85 of the International Olympic Committee’s 101 members.
The closed-door presentations could be vital in swaying opinion ahead of the secret IOC ballot in Kuala Lumpur on July 31.
Each city was given 45 minutes to explain their bid plans, with another 45 minutes allotted for questions and answers. Almaty went first, followed by Beijing.
Almaty’s presentation seemed to hit the right notes with IOC members, suggesting the race could become much tighter than many expected.
“I was very, very agreeably surprised,” Canadian IOC member Dick Pound said. “I think they attracted the attention of people who may not have been convinced before. It looks to me like they figured out all of the weaknesses of the competitors and they just nailed the differences — snow, water, air, experience.”
Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and is backed by China’s political and economic might, has long been considered the favorite. Underdog Almaty has countered with the slogan “Keeping it Real” to set itself apart as the bid offering true winter sports tradition, setting and conditions.
Reedie said Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov, who headed yesterday’s Almaty delegation, gave an impressive performance.
“I have had a feeling for some time that they are a much stronger and a better bid than many people have given them credit for,” Reedie said.
US Olympic Committee chairman and IOC member Larry Probst agreed.
“They have snow,” he said. “They made that point frequently and consistently. I think it’s an interesting proposition. I don’t think many people know enough about Almaty and what is has to offer. It’s a learning process. I was impressed with what they presented.”
The IOC released a technical evaluation report last week that cited serious challenges facing both bids, including Beijing’s lack of natural snow and heavy reliance on water reserves for snow-making. The report noted financial risks and limited experience in hosting major events for Almaty.
Massimov told the IOC the bid is a national priority and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to open the central Asian country — a former Soviet republic — to the world.
“To put it simply: Kazakhstan not only wants the Winter Games, we need the Winter Games,” Massimov told the gathering, according to members inside the meeting.
The Almaty bid gave the IOC details of what it called a realistic and affordable budget in line with IOC reforms. Almaty projects an operating budget of US$1.752 billion and a separate capital infrastructure budget of US$1.853 billion.
The Almaty bidders said they have 70 percent of the facilities in place, with all venues within a 30km radius.
“A year ago we said the Kazakhs are not really organized,” Swiss IOC member and international skiing federation president Gian Franco Kasper said. “They really did something now. They did a good job. They were very prepared. It’s too early to say, but it’s going to be close.”
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