Reporting from Almaty, Kazakhstan – A sunny, unseasonably warm day in Almaty welcomed Alexander Zhukov and his International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission team on Saturday, the first day of their visit to assess the city’s 2022 Olympic Games bid.
It was “quite a bright and interesting day” Ilya Urazakov, General Director of the Organising Committee for Almaty said after official meetings were over.
Along with reviewing several key themes in the bid’s dossier, the IOC team hit the road to examine existing venues and proposed venue sites including the Ak Bulak Nordic Park offered to host biathlon and cross country ski events and the Tabagan snow park that could stage Alpine and freestyle skiing.
Bid Chair Andrey Kryukov described the day as “really positive” after hours of behind-the-doors meetings held securely at Almaty’s Ritz Carlton hotel, typically away from the couple dozen international media representatives and several more that arrived to cover the visit domestically.
Other than a very brief morning photo call, the IOC team was kept out of reach of reporters and photographers for the entire day – this is a strict protocol set by the IOC for evaluation visits though additional photo access has generally been made available during previous years’ bids.
Both Almaty and the IOC endeavor to keep all discussions and interactions private during this highly public review in order to protect mutual interests, including keeping Almaty’s competitive advantage over rival bid Beijing that will receive the same IOC team next month. Public discussions about the other city in the race are also forbidden under IOC guidlines.
However Urazakov briefly alluded to Beijing’s air pollution struggles when discussing his own city’s ecological challenges that were apparently addressed by the IOC in the morning. He explained that these “green” issues are being dealt with by Almaty and Kazakhstan in addition to the bids efforts to create improvements for the future.
Bid officials described the IOC as being impressed with the already built Ak Bulak arena featuring cross country and biathlon ski facilities that was originally commissioned for Almaty’s 2011 Asian Winter Games.
Later, after the commission team examined the Tabagan snow park, seasoned Olympic venue planner Gernot Leitner told reporters that the IOC had “no issues” with the plans, describing that the mountains surrounding the area offered so many possibilities that making the necessary additions and upgrades to meet requirements would be a “plug-and-play” situation.
Bright banners surrounded the venues that reflected the bid’s new tagline, “keeping it real” – an allusion to a plan that the bid says is feasible and efficient and Almaty’s answer to the IOC’s newly implemented Agenda 2020. The tagline has also been integrated to the social media campaign that features the @RealAlmaty2022 Twitter address and #RealAlmaty2022 hashtag.
The meetings will continue Sunday and visits are planned for ice arenas, the jumping and sliding centre and the ceremonies venues.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.