KUALA LUMPUR – In the morning hours of July 31, a high-level Kazakh delegation will make one last effort here to persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members to cast their votes in favour of Almaty’s bid to host the Winter Olympic Games in 2022. The Chinese delegation will make a similar try, but naturally for Beijing’s cause. Whichever of the two bids prevails, the world will learn the outcome around 6 p.m. Kuala Lumpur time (GMT+8) the same day.
Regardless of the result, it is a historic moment for Kazakhstan. Never before has a city from Central Asia been closer to hosting humanity’s grandest festival of sports and cultures.
Obviously, Beijing may still be seen as a strong favourite to win the contest, but Almaty’s bid team has already accomplished a great feat in raising the city’s, and indeed the nation’s profile in the Olympic Movement. The tone of comments about Almaty’s bid coming from IOC members, sport pundits and numerous publications in the international media is often one of curiosity, but also increasingly a favourable one.
The bid committee has argued that Almaty 2022 wants to change the way Olympics are planned and hosted by ensuring a true and lasting legacy for the city and region. Yet another ambition is to inspire more cities to bid for the Games in the future and thereby overcome a temporary crisis of confidence in the international sports movement.
What the world has little known before this bid is that Almaty has a long tradition in winter sports, beginning in the 1950s during the Soviet Union when the city was the centre for outdoor winter activities. Since Kazakhstan’s independence two decades ago, Almaty has grown into a leading winter sports centre in Eurasia and a promising tourist destination, the bid committee noted in a July 23 press release.
One of the strengths of Almaty’s bid is the fact that “70 percent of the venues necessary for the Games already exist and are currently fully utilised for winter sports.” In the last 15 years of Kazakhstan’s economic boom, which has helped Almaty develop into Central Asia’s undisputed commercial centre, the city has added six top-tier venues to its already-existing collection of world-class ski resorts and other competition venues. A major boost came from co-hosting the Asian Winter Games with Astana in 2011.
Furthermore, with the Winter Universiade scheduled to take place in Almaty in less than two years, 80 percent of the necessary venues will exist and see regular use.
According to Kazakh Minister of Culture and Sport Arystanbek Mukhamediuly, “Almaty’s bid for the Winter Games is driven by our people’s passion for winter sports and is well aligned with our long-term sports infrastructure plan. Almaty will only need two additional competition venues for the [Olympic] Games. Rising demand from the city and region makes the addition of these venues a natural continuation of our strategic plan.”
The bid committee named the major winter sport events hosted recently by Almaty, including the 2011 Asian Winter Games, 2015 FIS Junior Nordic World Championships Under 23, 2014 World University Speed Skating Championship, 2015 ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships, 2012 and 2013 FIS Nordic Combined World Cups, 2010-2014 FIS Ski Jumping Grand Prix and 2010-2012 FIS Ski Jumping Continental Cups. Through the successful presentation of these international competitions, Almaty has proven itself as a trustworthy and competent host with a strong team of experienced event professionals and volunteers, as well as in-depth technical and sports expertise.
Almaty 2022’s Games concept is also one of the most compact in more than 30 years. All venues are located within a 30-kilometre radius of the Olympic Village – an unprecedented convenience for the movement’s most important stakeholders, the athletes, as well as for the Olympic family and spectators.
The bid committee’s argument is that Almaty 2022 is a truly green and sustainable plan due to numerous existing venues and minimal construction needs. With the Sliding Centre and the Almaty Olympic Arena as the only additional venues needed, “no sensitive mountain ecosystems will be affected by their construction and no large-scale transportation projects are required to reach the mountain venues from the city,” the committee claims.
In fact, Almaty’s winter climate provides ideal competitive conditions for successful Winter Olympics. The city and region have plenty of snow and plenty of water.
“The city’s mountain venues average between 120-150 cm of fresh, natural snow coverage during the proposed Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games periods and the annual accumulated snowfall adds up to eight metres. Any man-made snow requirements will be easily met using Almaty’s numerous mountain lakes and rivers with no impact to the existing water needs of the region,” stated the bid committee.
According to Almaty 2022 Bid Vice-Chairman Andrey Kryukov, a “sensible, affordable and sustainable Games plan is based on real venues, real winter sports hosting experience and real snow and winter ambience.”
“Almaty can prove that a nation does not need to be a superpower or spend tens of billions of dollars to host a Winter Games. Consistent with the goals of IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms, Almaty 2022’s planning for the Winter Games utilises our existing resources and is directly linked to our city’s long-term goals. Rather than changing our city to fit the Games, we adapted the Games plan to fit our city’s needs. This is real change of the Winter Games and exactly what we mean by ‘Keeping it Real,’” he said.
Finally, Almaty 2022’s budget is prudent and the government, represented by Prime Minister Karim Massimov at a June 9 technical presentation for the IOC members in Lausanne, presented the necessary guarantees of sufficient state support if needed. The Games projected total budget is $4.5 billion. The bid committee argues that this reflects “moderate, sensible” spending.
According to Almaty Akim (Mayor) Akhmetzhan Yessimov, “Almaty is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city full of young and passionate winter sport enthusiasts who passionately want to bring the Games to our city. Almaty 2022 is fully supported by our government and we have the financial strength necessary to deliver a great Games experience for the athletes and participants. To be ready for 2022, Almaty has been investing in winter sports facilities and experience for over a decade and on July 31 we hope to earn the opportunity to showcase to the world the tremendous progress our country has made.”