ASTANA – The question of whether or not hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics would be good for Kazakhstan has been much debated in social media as the July 31, 2015 deadline for the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on the host city approaches.
The question is particularly relevant as International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said during a recent visit to Almaty that the city’s hosting bid is “strong.”While many local and foreign experts and officials debate whether the bid looks hopeful for Kazakhstan or is even worthwhile, Almaty stands a good chance of hosting the historic games.
“Almaty’s undeniable advantage is its compact games concept,”Aidar Makhmetov, public relations department director of the Samruk Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund said in an interview with this newspaper. Makhmetov is an avid supporter of the Almaty bid. “For example, the maximum distance between the proposed Olympic village in Almaty and the sports complexes is approximately 35 kilometres. In [another competitor] Beijing, it is 246 kilometres. This is important to the IOC. Almaty also has a great advantage in terms of availability of sports facilities. There are eight sports complexes today and there are talks of building four more. Beijing only has three facilities and it is required to have at least 12-14 facilities. That’s too many to build. In addition, the major sports facilities in Almaty will be built by the 2017 Winter Universiade, which, in the case of a positive decision from the IOC, will be regarded as a rehearsal for the 2022 Olympic Games.”
Only two candidate cities are left vying for the 2022 bid; Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Stockholm, Sweden; Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine and Oslo, Norway all dropped out. All of these decisions were influenced by the cost of the latest games in Sochi in 2014.They cost Russia a whopping $51 billion.
“The enormous costs of the Olympic Games in Sochi seriously discouraged many countries from hosting the 2022 Olympics,”Makhmetov said. “However, contrary to popular belief, the high cost of the winter Olympics won’t necessarily apply to Almaty, as most of the sports facilities will be constructed for the Universiade [by 2017]. I believe that at this point, we have a real [good] chance of winning the right to host such a grand and complex event like the Olympics. We have the chance now and it will never come around again, because the IOC is seeking to seriously simplify the application process for hosting the games. We mustn’t miss this opportunity.”
Makhmetov believes that the 2022 Olympics could unite the nation and cause a welcomed wave of patriotism and sense of community.
“This is our mostimportant national project. After the games, everyone in the world will know where Kazakhstan is. Who had ever heard of Calgary, Nagano or even Lillehammer before the Olympic Games were held in them? Today, these towns have a page in global history. I’m sure that if we win [the bid], we will execute the games in a very organised manner and once and for all put Almaty on the map, which will provide a powerful impetus for the development of not only the city but also the whole of Kazakhstan,”Makhmetov said.
Kazakhstan blogger and President of the Republic-Region-Development Fund, a non-governmental organisation, Galym Baituk opposes the bid with a reasoning of his own.
“We do have facilities, but the next question is; are they profitable? We don’t have a bobsleigh track, curling stadium, etc. We would need to build them, which would require a lot of money. You know how we hosted the 2011 Asian Games. We earned five billion tenge (US$27.6 million), and spent nearly $1.5 billion.”
“We won only seven medals in the six previous Winter Olympic Games; hosts should want to win too, right? So far, we can’t be contenders with only one gold, three silver and three bronze medals, though as hosts, we might win a few more, but that is it,” Baituk added.
Baituk’s worries also lie in matters pertaining to corruption, although as the blogger commented, given various circumstances and the state’s financial situation, he wouldn’t mind the country hosting the Olympics.
“I am a true patriot of my country; of course, I want Kazakhstan to be a part of history, but not like this. To be blunt, hosting such events when we have other issues on the agenda is like ‘fiddling while Rome is burning’,” he said.
“In terms of country branding, this is not the kind of branding Kazakhstan needs, not the Olympics. Businessmen and big investors already know about Kazakhstan, they will find us themselves; why do we care if farmers in Australia know about Kazakhstan? Or residents of Brazilian favelas?”
Baituk, who is full of ideas, proposed building a Boratland amusement park, or a museum, based on the comic American fiction character near Astana instead of creating more buzz around the country in hopes of boosting foreign tourism inflow.
“We are afraid to laugh at ourselves, but look at the new films in Hollywood, they are full of people making fun of themselves, watch movies like Naked Gun for instance, we laugh at it but still can’t laugh at ourselves. I think Boratland would attract more tourists, we only need to learn to make fun of ourselves and just embrace the idea already,” he concluded.
“I would be very happy if the Winter Olympics came to Almaty,”2012 long jump London Olympics champion Olga Rypakova has recently told local media.“For any athlete at the beginning of the four-year period, just participation is a huge responsibility and honour and hosting the games is a high joy and reward for the work that we put in. The Olympic Games is a portrayal of the best holiday not only for the athletes but also for each ordinary Kazakhstan citizen. We, as athletes, at least have the opportunity to participate in such activities. However, it would be great for our compatriots to experience this holiday as well. We want to show the world our achievements, our lives and all the beauty of Kazakhstan.”