The race for the 2022 Winter Olympics is on — a six-city contest featuring two former Summer Games hosts, a cross-border bid and a pair of candidates from the former Soviet Union.
Notably missing are any contenders from the traditional Alpine countries of Europe, where voters in Switzerland and Germany rejected proposed bids because of concerns over high costs and the environment.
The International Olympic Committee released the official list of bid cities Friday, hours after the midnight deadline for applications passed.
As expected, the candidates — all previously announced in their own countries — are Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing; Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine; Oslo, Norway; and Stockholm.
Krakow is bidding jointly with Slovakia, which would hold some of the snow events in Jasna in the Tatras mountains.
Five of the six countries have bid for the Winter Games before, with Ukraine the only newcomer.
Stockholm or Beijing would become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. Stockholm held the 1912 Games and the equestrian competition for the 1952 Melbourne Olympics. Oslo hosted the 1952 Winter Olympics, and the Norwegian town of Lillehammer staged the 1994 Games.
The confirmation of the bid cities marks the start of a two-year campaign that will end with the selection of the host city in July 2015.
The IOC said the field ”includes a strong mix of both traditional and developing winter sports markets.”
The race has twice as many candidates as the previous winter campaign, when the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang defeated Munich and Annecy, France, for the 2018 Games.
”These cities and their supporters clearly understand the benefits that hosting the games can have and the long lasting legacy that a games can bring to a region,” IOC President Thomas Bach said of the 2022 bid cities.
The IOC did not mention that potential 2022 bids from two major European winter sports countries were turned down in recent referendums.
Last week, voters in Bach’s home country of Germany said no to another bid from Munich, citing financial and environmental concerns. In March, Switzerland dropped plans for a bid from St. Moritz, the 1928 and `48 host, when voters in the region refused to support it amid worries over costs and disruption.
The new bidding comes amid concerns over the costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, where the overall price tag is more than $50 billion — a record for any summer or winter Olympics.
”Maybe some of the investments we have seen in Sochi with $50 billion has scared some people away,” senior Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg told The Associated Press. ”I felt that when Switzerland pulled out and I felt even stronger when all the four constituents in Germany said no. This needs to be taken seriously by the IOC. We have to look at this and find out what happened and why did it happen.”
With that in mind, he said, the future of the Olympics could be driven by whether cities can afford to host the games.
”If the costs and investments are so high, many countries, many cities will shake their heads and say this is too much for us,” Heiberg said in a telephone interview. ”We have to find ways and means of saving costs and investments, otherwise we will not have any applicants for the Winter Games, and the same applies for the Summer Games.”
The projected budgets for the 2020 Games will be scrutinized during the bid process.
Oslo has estimated the cost of its games at $5.3 billion, a fraction of Sochi’s bill. Stockholm has claimed it would spend only $1.5 billion, a figure that seems extremely low. The city and national governments have expressed some doubts about Stockholm’s bid plans.
Polish officials have estimated the cost for security, housing and sports events at $1.7 billion, but said the figure could be three times higher taking into account infrastructure projects.
Travel distances will also be an issue for the IOC.
Stockholm plans to host most of the Alpine ski events in the northern Swedish resort of Are, more than 400 miles from the capital.
Beijing would host the skating, curling and other indoor events in the city, with the snow events 120 miles away in the northern Chinese city of Zhangjiakou.
Oslo would hold Alpine events in Lillehammer, about 125 miles north of the city.
Krakow would use the Tatra mountain resort of Zakopane in Poland for the ice events, with the Alpine events 95 miles across the Slovak border in Jasna.
No two-country Olympic bid has ever succeeded. Finland-Norway and Slovenia-Austria have mounted unsuccessful joint bids. Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, China and Kazakhstan have all failed in previous winter bids.
With big cities like Beijing, Stockholm and Oslo in the race — and previous Winter Game hosted by Vancouver, Turin, Salt Lake City and Nagano — the era of small-town Olympics appears over for good.
Heiberg, who led the organizing committee for the highly successful Lillehammer Olympics, said the games would be too big now for the Norwegian town to host on its own.
”Since new disciplines and new sports have come in, a city of 23,000 people like Lillehammer would have had big difficulties in doing this on its own today,” he said. ”Yes, it worked out fine in 1994 but things have changed. We need a bigger city as the host city.”
Friday’s announcement marks the first phase of a long bid campaign.
The six cities will be invited to a seminar in Lausanne from Dec. 4-6 to participate in an observer program for February’s Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
The candidates must submit their detailed bid files to the IOC by March 14. The IOC executive board will decide which cities go through to the final round in a meeting next July 8-9.
The finalists will have to present their bid documents and financial guarantees by January 2015. An IOC evaluation commission will visit the cities in February and March 2015.
The IOC will select the host city by secret ballot on July 31, 2015, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.