IOC cites challenges for Almaty and Beijing Olympic bids
LONDON — The IOC on Monday cited serious challenges facing the two bids for the 2022 Winter Olympics, including pointed concerns over Beijing’s air pollution and lack of natural snow and Almaty’s budget risks and limited experience in hosting major events.
The International Olympic Committee issued a 136-page report that assessed the bids from the Chinese capital and the Kazakh city, underlining strengths and weaknesses of both.
The report by the IOC evaluation commission did not rank or grade the bids or make direct comparisons.
Almaty was portrayed favorably for its winter setting, natural snow and compact layout. Beijing was praised for its high-quality venues, experience from hosting the 2008 Summer Games and plans to develop a winter sports market for more than 300 million people in northern China.
While the report did not include any major surprises, it did not hold back in listing drawbacks, notably for Beijing and its climate, heavy reliance on water for snow-making and spread-out venues.
The Alpine skiing and sliding venues in Yanqing are about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Beijing, where the indoor events would be held. The Nordic, snowboard and freestyle events in Zhangjiakou are 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from Beijing.
"The large theater of operations, with three zones and several venue clusters, complicates security planning and operations," the IOC report said.
Both cities issued statements welcoming the report and saying their bids had been boosted by the findings.
The evaluation commission, chaired by Russian IOC member Alexander Zhukov, visited Almaty in February and Beijing in March.
The report was released a week before the Beijing and Almaty bid teams present their case to IOC members at a special technical briefing in Lausanne, Switzerland. The IOC will select the host city in a secret vote in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 31.
Beijing, aiming to become the first city to host both the summer and winter games, has been widely viewed as the favorite on the strength of China’s political and economic might. Kazakhstan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic in Central Asia, is still seeking to boost its international stature.
Both countries have been criticized for their record on human rights.
The IOC commission said it sought and received assurances from both bids that they would uphold new clauses in the Olympic Charter and host city contract dealing with non-discrimination, workers’ rights and sexual orientation. At the same time, the IOC said it would "respect the laws of a sovereign state."
The report said the panel received "written assurances" from China on human rights, including the right to demonstrate and media freedom to report on the games without restrictions on the Internet.
A coalition of Tibet activists launched a petition Monday urging the IOC to reject the Beijing bid, saying no details of China’s assurances on human rights had been provided. The group asserted that China’s crackdown on Tibetans had increased "two-fold" since the 2008 Beijing Games.
The IOC report said both of Beijing’s mountain zones "have minimal annual snowfall" and "would rely completely on artificial snow" for the games.
"Due to the lack of natural snow, the `look’ of the venue may not be aesthetically pleasing either side of the ski run," it said.
The panel cited concerns that Beijing had underestimated the amount of water that will be needed to be drawn from reservoirs for making artificial snow. It called China’s goals for clearing up the city’s notorious air pollution "challenging" and said the risk of poor air quality would be highest at test events and training that begin two years before the games.
Beijing’s heavy traffic and a lack of winter sports knowledge among spectators were also mentioned, although it said Beijing has plans to deal with both problems.
The IOC praised Beijing’s "well thought out" and "viable" financial plan but said "strong financial discipline" would be needed to meet the $1.558 organizing committee budget. Beijing’s separate capital infrastructure budget is $1.511 billion.
Almaty’s financial plan, meanwhile, "presents risks," the IOC said, referring to the operating budget of $1.752 billion and infrastructure budget is $1.853 billion.
"Economic factors, including low oil prices and exchange rate issues, could negatively impact games preparations and the government’s capacity to provide financial and other support," the report said.
The IOC also cited Kazakhstan’s "limited experience with international sports events."
As a result, Almaty "would require a high degree of support from the IOC and other games stakeholders to deliver successful games," the report said.
The IOC also cited concerns over air pollution in Almaty, particularly during the winter months, and environmental issues in the mountains where some venues are located near or inside state parks.