In an evaluation report released Monday the International Olympic Committee (IOC) generally lauded China’s ability to host another Olympic Games in 2022 from organizational and logistic perspectives, and as a “strong commercial opportunity” – but cautioned that there may be a difficult Winter sports integration.
The report has been published ahead of a critical technical session to be held in Lausanne next week where a full session of IOC members will be briefed about the bids and have the opportunity to view presentations from both Beijing and opponent Almaty.
The report, based on IOC Evaluation Commission gleanings from bid application files and on-site visits, does not attach scores to each city but instead describes sets of “opportunities” and “risks” for various categories. Based on recent IOC Agenda 2020 reforms, the format has been changed from past campaigns and offers more candid detail and input from the Commission experts. A detailed photographic file captured by the IOC in January is included for reference.
The evaluation describes the challenge of “substantial reliance on snow making in all mountain venues especially Yanqing” and later discusses the environmental impact of the use of water reservoirs to generate artificial snow. Lack of snow cover is also expected to diminish the Games experience as the evaluation suggests “there could be no snow outside of the racecourse…impacting the visual perception of the snow sports setting”. For the Paralympic Games, there is concern that high March temperatures will impair the field of play for snow sports.
A further observation suggests the following cultural disconnect between Beijing and a Winter Games: “Spectator knowledge may be affected by limited history and exposure to certain winter sports, which could affect the athlete experience.”
There was little concern about the 200 km distance between ice venues in Beijing and the snow cluster in Zhangjiakou that will be connected by planned high speed rail; the IOC said it was an “efficient” plan though they felt travel times might be marginally higher than bid estimates. This finding is consistent with Agenda 2020 reforms that ease up on compact footprint requirements in order to improve costs and sustainability. However, the report cautioned that three separate athletes’ villages may impair the Games’ experience.
For Almaty, snow fall is not expected to be an issue as the Commission reported that “abundant natural snow reduces water and energy requirements for artificial snow.”
However a list of challenges remain for Almaty, the IOC cautions, including lack of accommodation, land ownership issues at some venues and an economy sensitive to changing oil prices that could impact private venue development, housing legacies and revenue projections. The lack of a skilled workforce outside of the Nordic and speed skating disciplines was identified as a risk.
Almaty’s ultra-compact plan is seen to have multiple benefits both at Games time and in legacy mode – and the IOC sees the opportunity for the Games to be a “catalyst for environmental and social improvements in the city, especially with regard to air quality.” The report warned about the air quality for both Beijing and Almaty, but also identified plans for improvement.
Experience and legacy from the 2008 Summer Olympic Games reflects well on Beijing in this report as organizational and government support, existing transportation and accommodation infrastructure, and existing venues are highlighted as strengths for the Chinese capital.
IOC commissioned public opinion polls showed strong support in both cities with 85 per cent in Almaty and 88 per cent in Beijing.
The IOC claim to have entered into discussions and received assurances from both China and Kazakhstan with respect to human rights and freedoms, and adherence to the Olympic Charter – but with the caveat that “the IOC has to respect the laws of a sovereign state.” Both bids have been criticized for multiple human rights violations from special interest groups.
“The Evaluation Commission has made sure that its report gives an accurate, objective and fair assessment of each of the two Candidate Cities,” the Chairman of the 2022 Evaluation Commission Alexander Zhukov said in a statement.
“We have engaged in an open and interactive dialogue with each city and laid out strong foundations for future collaboration regardless of which city wins in July. This new approach is the result of the discussions generated by Olympic Agenda 2020 and it is encouraging to see how this translates in practice”.
Wang Anshun, Mayor of Beijing and President of the Beijing 2022 Bid Committee, explained “Our strong desire to host an excellent Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2022 has received a significant boost from today’s IOC Evaluation Commission report, which recognizes the Bid’s strengths, including world-class sports venues and infrastructure with identified legacy use, huge market potential, tremendous public and government support, legacy plan closely linked to regional economic development plan and strategy to develop winter sports and related industry.”
“We are grateful for this report,” Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yessimov responded, “of course there is still work to be done.”
“And we will already have an experienced team on the ground for the OCOG due to the Universiade [in 2017], which is unique.
“Now we are looking forward to the two crucial presentations in Lausanne and Kuala Lumpur.”
Almaty and Beijing are all that remain in this race that had also included four European bids at the outset. Stockholm, Krakow, Lviv and Oslo all abandoned their bid plans for various political and economic reasons. Based on the list of weaknesses for the cities remaining it seems IOC members will have a difficult choice when they vote in a single deciding ballot July 31 in Kuala Lumpur.