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Why Almaty should get the 2022 Winter Olympics

10 june 2015, 20:40
0

Bright spots in Almaty’s 2022 Winter Olympics bid include a moderate $3.6 billion cost and many existing competition facilities, while a key concern is the need for eight more hotels to accommodate fans, the International Olympic Committee says.
The comments came in a 137-page report in which the Committee assessed the strengths and weaknesses of Almaty and Beijing’s Games proposals.The logo of Almaty 2022 Candidate City is seen on June 9, 2015 at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. ©AFP
The Issuing of the report is one of the final steps before the International Olympics brass choose the winning city next month.
I’ve read news stories saying that Beijing is the favorite to get the Games, but for the life of me I can’t understand why.
The Chinese capital’s competition venues are far apart, which would inconvenience athletes, Games staff and fans alike. Almaty’s venues, on the other hand, are close to each other – no more than 35 kilometers apart.
In addition, Beijing has limited snowfall. That means it would have to use artificial snow for skiing and other alpine events. This would consume a lot of water and energy – and fake snow just plain doesn’t look good. In contrast, snow has never been a problem in the mountains around Almaty.
Another of Beijing’s shortcomings is that it’s one of the world’s most polluted cities, which is particularly bad for athletes and doesn’t do much for fans, either. Although Almaty can have air-quality problems in winter, they aren’t anything like Beijing’s. And Almaty plans a major effort to reduce pollution in the next few years, including low-emissions buses, more Metro subway stops and a light rail system.
Finally, Beijing had a Summer Olympics in 2008. It would be unfair for it to get another Games so quickly.
The biggest surprise about Almaty in the International Olympics Committee assessment report is that downhill skiing and other alpine events would be held at Almatau and Ak Bulak, not at the area’s most heralded venue, the Shymbulak resort.
Speed-skiing and technical-skiing events would be held on new runs built at Almatau. Freestyle skiing, parallel slalom and snowboard events would be at Ak Bulak. International Olympic Committee (IOC) members pose for a family picture after the bid presentations by Beijing and Almaty, candidate city's for the 2022 Winter Olympic games. ©AFP
Kazakhstan had originally wanted Shymbulak to be the skiing venue. That was where Asian Winter Games skiing events were held in 2011 and where the Universiade Games skiing events are scheduled to be in 2017.
But environmental concerns prompted International Olympics officials to ask Kazakhstan not to use Shymbulak or Tau Park.
“The proposed locations of the competition venues in the mountain zone include areas that are part of the 200,000-hectare Ile Alatau State National Park,” which Kazakhstan is considering nominating as a United Nations World Heritage site because of its biodiversity, the Olympic Committee report noted.
“The revised Games concept involving the relocation of certain competition venues has considerably reduced the potential environmental impact of the Games in the mountain zone,” it concluded.
Almaty’s Olympic budget proposal of $3.605 billion includes $1.853 billion for building new facilities and infrastructure and $1.752 billion for running the Games.
That budget is one-fourteenth of the $51 billion the Russians spent on the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. Beijing’s proposed budget is even less than Kazakhstan’s -- $3 billion – but the difference isn’t enough for Beijing to deliver a knockout punch to Almaty.
The final Sochi cost, which was way over the estimate, was so outrageous that it drew howls around the world from Olympics officials, sports fans and opponents of spending public money on signature athletic events.The unveiling of the Olympic Champions Wall in Sochi. ©RIA Novosti
One reason for the Sochi cost debacle was that Russia had to build everything from scratch. Another was widespread corruption in the construction process, which ratcheted up expenses, journalists have reported.
Using the Sochi fiasco as a rallying cry, many Norwegians opposed Oslo getting the 2022 Olympics on grounds that the cost wouldn’t justify the economic, tourism and public-relations benefits. Their opposition prompted the government to cancel Norway’s bid. At the time, Oslo was considered the front runner for the Games.
In contrast with the grassroots opposition that scuttled Norway’s bid, Kazakhstan’s bid has overwhelming public support.
Two polls were conducted to gauge national opinion on the Games. A poll that the International Olympic Committee commissioned showed 87 percent support. A poll that the Almaty 2022 organization conducted showed 79 percent support.
The Committee-commissioned poll, conducted in July 2014, involved interviews with 1,600 Kazakhs across the country. The Almaty 2022 poll, conducted in December 2014, involved 1,800 interviews nationwide.
One reason Almaty’s cost proposal is so reasonable is because it’s already built or renovated most of the facilities needed for the Olympics. A lot of the work was done for the 2011 Asian Winter Games – the building of a ski jump and the renovation of the Medeu skating rink, for example.
Almaty will build additional facilities for the 2017 Winter Universiade, an Olympic-caliber event for student athletes 17 to 28.
By the time the Universiade is held, Almaty will have completed 10 of the 13 facilities needed for the Olympics.
“Three additional competition venues – a sliding track (for luge and bobsled), the Alpine skiing venue and an arena for short-track speed skating and figure skating – would be constructed if Almaty’s bid is successful,” according to the International Olympic Committee report.
The only Games-facility concern that Almaty’s bid raises is the date the city plans for completing the luge and bobsled track, the Committee said.International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach gestures prior to the presentation of Beijing 2022 Candidate City's bid for the the 2022 Winter Olympics. ©AFP
“Completion of the sliding track (only) 16 months before the Games would present a challenge,” it said. That’s because the track would not only need to be tested for quality and safety, but also retooled if deficiencies were found.
At the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver the sliding track was so fast that a luge contestant was seriously injured while making a practice run.
Sixteen months would seem to be enough time to test and make changes to Almaty’s luge and bobsled track, however.
The International Olympics Committee’s biggest concern about Almaty’s bid is not competition facilities but fan accommodations.
It estimates the city will need 3,000 more hotel rooms than now to serve Olympics spectators. A typical hotel has 350 to 400 rooms, so 3,000 would translate into eight or nine new hotels.
Kazakhstan has committed to spending the public money needed to hold the 2022 Olympics. That includes three Olympic Villages to house athletes and a Media Village to house journalists.
But hotels are private enterprises. Kazakhstan officials would not only have to woo hotel companies but also prod them to complete their construction in time for the Games.Bid delegation of Almaty 2022 Candidate City (L to R) Mayor of Almaty Akhmetzhan Yessimov, Kazakhstan's Prime minister Karim Massimov and Kazakhstan National Olympic Committee President Temirkhan Dosmukhambetov. ©AFP
Kazakhstan has done a good job of attracting corporate investment since independence in 1991, and that includes hotels, many of which have been erected in the past decade.
But attracting eight or nine new hotels – and making sure they are completed -- in the seven years running up to the Olympics could be a formidable task.
In discussing whether the government in Astana can actually meet its financing promises for the Games, the International Olympic Committee report said something that indicated it hadn’t fully done its homework about Kazakhstan.
That statement was: “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.”
That comment made me think the Committee is unaware of Kazakhstan’s National Fund, which contains around $70 billion that was set aside for contingencies such as the global recession of 2008 and 2009.
Kazakhstan tapped the fund, which it started in 2000, to soften the impact of the recession. It also tapped the fund last year to try to offset an economic dip resulting from low oil prices and Western sanctions against its key trading partner Russia.
Kazakhstan would certainly tap the National Fund again if continuing low oil prices threatened to jeopardize the country’s ability to hold a 2022 Olympics that was less than world-class.
I read the entire 137-page International Olympic Committee report comparing the Almaty and Beijing Olympic 2022 bids.
Because I’ve had a nine-year connection with Kazakhstan, I’m not an unbiased source, of course, but it seems to me that Almaty’s bid beats Beijing’s.
Both cities have moderate Olympics 2022 budgets. Both have legacy Games facilities – Beijing’s from the Summer Olympics of 2008. And both have experience holding international sports competitions.A Chinese girl holding an Olympic flag snaps a picture after the bid presentations by Beijing and Almaty, candidate city's for the 2022 Winter Olympic games. ©AFP
But Beijing’s filthy air has been the subject of international-news horror stories, its proposed Olympics 2022 venues are far apart, and it has no snow. It’s one thing to have snow-making machines as a back-up when your usually snowy area has a drought. It’s another to have to make all your snow because you never get enough at your location to put on an Olympics competition.
The bottom line on the snow issue, for me, is that this is, after all, a WINTER Olympics. Artificial snow just doesn’t cut it.
I know which city I’d vote for to host the 2022 Olympics. I’ll be awaiting the International Olympics Committee’s selection decision next month with eagerness, but also with some trepidation.


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