LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Seeking to cut into Beijing’s status as favourite, leaders of the Kazakh bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics told the IOC on Tuesday that Almaty presents the ideal choice that offers a “real” winter setting with plenty of natural snow.
Chinese officials played up the experience and legacy from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and said they have sufficient water supplies and snow-making capability for hosting the Winter Games.
With the vote less than two months away, leaders of the Almaty and Beijing bids made presentations at a “technical briefing” at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. The meeting was 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, much lesser known to the members than Beijing, had the most at stake to put its message across and make an impression with the voters. By all accounts, the Kazakh team made an impact, with members suggesting the race could become much tighter than many expected.
“They certainly nailed the bit about snow,” IOC vice-president Craig Reedie of Britain told The Associated Press. “They had pictures of people climbing through three feet of snow.”
Almaty leaders also portrayed their bid as being perfectly in tune with the IOC’s “Olympic Agenda 2020” reform program that calls for affordable games and maximum use of existing venues.
“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.”
The IOC released a technical evaluation report last week that cited serious challenges facing both bids, including Beijing’s lack of natural snow and financial risks for Almaty.
Beijing, which is backed by China’s political and economic might, has long been considered the favourite. 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.
“I think the Almaty presentation scored some points,” U.S. Olympic Committee chairman and IOC member Larry Probst said. “They drove home that message ‘keeping it real.’ That was all about snow versus making snow. I think that resonates.”
IOC members said Beijing gave a solid, highly-professional presentation that emphasized the experience of 2008 and the use of many of the venues from those games.
“We shared all of our ideas on Beijing’s bid for the Winter Olympics and fortunately all of our strengths were recognized by the IOC members,” Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong said. “After this conversation with the IOC, we are now filled with even more confidence in our bid.”
IOC President Thomas Bach said both cities embraced the “Olympic Agenda 2020” reforms.
“You could see a clear focus in both bids on sustainability and affordability,” he said.
“Both cities had different approaches and are starting from different points,” Bach added. “Almaty plans to develop a traditional winter sports centre, and leave the lasting legacy of transforming the region. On the other hand, Beijing showed excellent use of the 2008 legacy, and also plans to create a sporting legacy by giving more than 300 million Chinese access to winter sports.”
IOC members said the Chinese delegation was ready with answers about the shortage of natural snow and the impact on water reserves for snow-making.
“They were asked if they had to make snow, have they got water?” Reedie said. “They said, yes, they have a supply, then a reserve, then a second reserve. I thought they took that head on.”
Reedie said Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov, who headed the Almaty delegation, gave an impressive performance that included a show of humour. The Almaty delegates all spoke in English.
“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.
The Almaty bid gave the IOC details of what it called a realistic and affordable budget. Almaty projects an operating budget of $1.752 billion, and a separate capital infrastructure budget of $1.853 billion.
The Almaty bidders said they have 70 per cent of the facilities in place, with all venues within a 30-kilometre (18-mile) radius.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.
Stephen Wilson, The Associated Press