Ukraine among five bidding for 2022 Winter Olympics
LONDON -- Sergej Gontcharov sums up the status of Ukraine's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics in one word: uncertain.
The Ukrainian city of Lviv was among the five contenders that submitted applicant files to the International Olympic Committee by Friday's deadline.
With Ukraine engulfed in political crisis and its strategic Crimean peninsula under Russian control, it's unclear whether Lviv will be able to keep pursuing its Olympic campaign.
"Obviously so much is connected to what is going on in the country," Gontcharov, the CEO of the Lviv bid, told The Associated Press in an interview Friday. "As of now, there are more urgent and more important things that have to be clarified."
Competing with Lviv for the 2022 Olympics are Almaty, Kazakhstan, Beijing, Krakow, Poland and Oslo.
The five delivered their applicant files to the IOC this week, outlining their vision and concept for the games, in the first phase of the bid process.
The IOC executive board will decide which cities go through to the final phase at a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on July 7-9. The full IOC will select the host city on July 31, 2015, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
"We did our job by submitting the files to the best of our ability and now we have to wait and see," Gontcharov said. "Hopefully the situation calms down quickly and is resolved peacefully. Then we will enter into more detailed and more concrete talks with the new government."
Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Olympics, is seeking to become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games. Oslo hosted the 1952 Winter Games. Krakow would hold some ski events across the border in Slovakia. Almaty is a strong contender, bidding for a second straight time after failing to make the cut for 2014.
Lviv's bid has been buffeted by the upheaval in Ukraine, including the anti-government protests and outbursts of violence that led pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych to flee last month. Russian troops have since moved into Crimea, where the public will vote Sunday on whether to break away from Ukraine and become part of Russia.
How long Lviv remains in the race is anyone's guess.
"I'm not here telling fairytales," Gontcharov said by telephone. "Of course, it's very uncertain. The concept itself is based on great demand and potential. Whether we will be able to realize it now is unclear at the moment, too uncertain."
Gontcharov was in Lausanne on Thursday to meet with IOC officials and confirm the bid files had arrived by shipment. Just getting that far was an achievement.
"We worked very hard to complete the applicant file," he said. "It's all been a very big challenge. So many times we had to cancel some events that were planned in promotion of the bid, such as the logo launch and different social events. Every time when we thought the situation has calmed down, there was a new escalation."
While most bid cities work hard to promote their case, Lviv is keeping a low profile while Ukraine remains in turmoil.
"All the nice words and slogans and so on that we have prepared, there's no sense in it," Gontcharov said.
Lviv is located in western Ukraine, where much of the population favors ties with the European Union. Many in eastern Ukraine have closer economic and traditional ties to Russia.
The Lviv bid also has offices in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. The offices, located near Independence Square, were closed for two days during last month's deadly clashes between demonstrators and police.
"We came back to our offices and found three bullets," Gontcharov said. "It was very difficult to concentrate on the project."
A key requirement for any Olympic bid is government backing and financial guarantees -- something that has been thrown into doubt for Lviv by the changes and instability in Ukraine.
"Of course (the bid) depends on the government highly, and right now the government has other priorities," Gontcharov said.
An IOC panel will examine the files of the 2022 bid cities and submit a report to the executive board before its decision in July on the short list of finalists.
"It is a short time frame but if you have followed the events in Ukraine, from one day to the other there can be so many things happening," Gontcharov said.