IOC Soul Placed on the Line

30 July 2015

It is not the IOC's responsibility always to do what is correct, but we should expect them at least to make the attempt. To elect Almaty from Kazakhstan to host the Winter Olympic Games of 2022 Friday afternoon would be as bold and commendable a decision as those for Seoul, South Korea in 1988 and Lillehammer in 1994. Each proved retrospectively wise. 

To ignore Almaty and opt for the supposedly 'safe' bet of Beijing would be not only unimaginative, but a contradiction of all that was unanimously recommended at the Agenda 2020 Extraordinary Session last December. 

Almaty is a ready-made blue print, from the evidence available and outlined in the Evaluation Report, for all that the IOC seek in the future from host city candidates in a would-be expanding Olympic market.

President Thomas Bach reasons that Agenda 2020 proposals are directed post-2022, that they are ineligible for application to the current vote. Yet if the principles have been so emphatically acknowledged, the IOC could, and should, implement them now. 

I am not being wilfully critical of Beijing. China's history and culture are renowned, it's contemporary commitment to sport extensive even if politically motivated. I have attended several successful major events there, including Beijing '08, and have had two Olympic books of mine enthusiastically translated in Chinese. Nobody doubts their sporting appetite. 

However, the contrast in candidates in tomorrow's vote is conspicuous. Beijing's bid is a contrived event, ice and snow disciplines separated by a semi-continental train ride. While a proportion of China's audience has some awareness of, say, curling, it is unfamiliar with such as Nordic skiing, biathlon, ski-jumping and sled events. The bid is seeking domestic development as much as global entertainment. There will be four years of relatively barren publicity for the Olympic Movement's winter sports. 

On the other hand, Almaty's slogan "Keeping It Real" is meaningfully

truthful: a genuine winter sports city with real mountains and real snow.

Beijing boasts it will have all the artificial snow needed --though some Ifs claim it is superior, a bit like saying you can be better off with a lung transplant. 

At today's press conference, Akmetzhan Yassimov, Almaty's mayor, rattled off a dozen coherent reasons why the voters should sit up and take notice of a bid that is not so much a gamble as an investment. (Better, I might say, than ponder on where their wives might prefer to relax for a fortnight and go shopping):

  • "We scrutinised 2020, our priority is to keep costs low"
  • "Our President and Prime Minister provide every financial guarantee"
  • "Over seven years, the Games will cost only 0.3% of GDP"
  • "Our Games budget has been (strategically) cut by $100 million"
  • "Nine of our thirteen venues already exist"
  • "Our environmental concept excludes any construction in the mountains
  • "Almaty's economic growth fate exceeds 1% p.a."
  • "We have a sustainable legacy with no 'white elephant' venues"
  • "Our first metro line has already opened"
  • "Our City and Mountain venues are all within a 30km radius"
  • "Only two venues will still to be constructed after Winter Universiad 2017"
  • "Hosting 2022 is part of a 15-year strategy branding Kazakhstan as an emerging nation" 

Pierre de Coubertin's concept one hundred and twenty one years ago was to educate and embrace the world through sport. Under that flag, Kazakhstan would, I believe, be a more relevant selection than the economic giant China. Power to the small people!

With thanks David Millar / Sport Intern

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