When two years ago we launched our bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, few commentators gave Kazakhstan a chance. But following the IOC committee’s successful visit to Almaty last month, the mood has changed. We are now viewed as serious contenders.
This knowledge has unleashed a huge sense of pride and excitement in the city and country. We are proud that we could host such an illustrious event and have the chance to show off modern Kazakhstan. We are excited as well at the prospect of working with the Olympic movement to deliver a modern but “real” Winter Games which is true to its great tradition.
We are confident that Almaty has a great deal to offer. It is cradled by the majestic Tien Shan mountains, which lie on the city’s doorstep and will provide athletes and visitors breathtaking views. We have a strong winter sports tradition as well as experience of hosting major winter events such as the 2011 Asian Winter Games.
This means that eight of the 14 competition venues which will host Olympic events are already built and in use. They include the Medeo stadium, where many world records have been set. Three more venues are under construction for the 2017 Winter Universiade, which will see more than 2,000 student athletes from more than 50 countries compete.
It is precisely because so much of the infrastructure is already built that our $3.5 billion budget is lower than recent Games, as the IOC wants. We hope to demonstrate that the Olympic spirit depends not on money but on dedication, hard work and ambition.
We also believe our country mirrors the values that underpin the Olympic Movement. Kazakhstan is a country where people of more than 100 different ethnic backgrounds and 40 faiths live in peace, tolerance and harmony. If there is one nation ready to welcome citizens from all over the world with a warm heart, it is Kazakhstan.
We are immensely proud as well not only of our country’s natural beauty but also the Kazakhstan we have built since independence 23 years ago. We have gone from being a remote part of the old Soviet Union to a dynamic, modern nation on course to be one of the top 30 global economies in the world by 2050.
Almaty itself illustrates both our rich tradition and recent success. On the historic Silk Road, it has been a melting pot of language, art and culture for centuries. Yet it is an exciting, vibrant, modern city which will offer something for everyone and where one in three of its population is under 30.
In global terms, it might be a relatively small city of 1.5 million people, but we intend to use its size to its advantage to stage a truly memorable Games. We can host the most compact Winter Olympics in many years with all venues within a 30-kilometer radius of the Olympic Village.
We have made sure, too, in our bid that hosting the Olympics will have a positive impact for generations to come. It will strengthen Almaty’s position as the center of Eurasian mountain tourism and winter sporting events. All our Olympic facilities will be used for training new generations of athletes, hosting events and serving as wonderful bases for recreation.
The 2022 Winter Olympics will also drive wider economic and social progress. The Olympic Park will become a great residential, commercial and tourist center, close to our international airport. The new convention center will boost the city’s ambition to host international exhibitions and meetings.
Last month, when we welcomed the IOC delegation and shared details about our bid, we showed how strongly we shared their vision of lowering hosting costs, integrating sustainability into our planning and leaving a lasting legacy. We also promised to continue working fully, transparently and openly with them to present the true potential of Almaty and do the Games and Olympic Movement proud.
We are truly excited. We want the world to witness for themselves the different cultures, traditions and nations that live united in Kazakhstan. It is a spirit which underpins both the Olympic Movement and our country. It is why we are ready to make history in 2022.
The author is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The opinion first appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune.