LONDON - The IOC will not reopen the bidding process for the 2022 Winter Olympics, even though only two cities are left in the troubled race following Oslo's withdrawal.
"The IOC is sticking to its commitments," IOC President Thomas Bach told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We have issued the invitation for bidding. There is a clear and transparent procedure. We will follow this procedure with two candidates."
Oslo became the fourth city to drop out of the bidding on Wednesday after the Norwegian government declined to provide financial support, citing concerns over the cost of hosting the games.
The move leaves Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, as the only two remaining candidates. Neither are established winter sports countries, and both are targets of human rights critics.
"We are in the middle of a procedure," Bach said. "We cannot and we do not want to change the regulations in the middle of the race, given the fact that we still have two very interesting candidatures with a very diverse approach."
The IOC will select the 2022 host city on July 31, 2015, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Beijing, which staged the 2008 Olympics, is seeking to become the first city to host both summer and winter games. Almaty, located in Central Asia, hosted the 2011 Winter Asian Games and will stage the 2017 Winter University Games.
Stockholm; Krakow, Poland; and Lviv, Ukraine, withdrew their 2022 bids in recent months. Before that, potentially strong bids from St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Munich, Germany, were rejected by voters in referendums.
Oslo was forced to pull out after the ruling Conservative party rejected financial guarantees for the games. The junior partner in the minority coalition voted against the bid four months ago, and polls have shown that more than 50 per cent of Norwegians are opposed.
"For me the decision was no surprise at all," Bach said by telephone from Lausanne, Switzerland. "This was clearly a political decision. You have a minority coalition government. It's very rare that a minority coalition government is taking the risk of losing or giving up its coalition for the sake of a project which shows its benefits only after the next election day."
On Wednesday, in an unusually strongly-worded statement, IOC executive director Christophe Dubi said Norway's decision to pull out was based on "half-truths and factual inaccuracies." He blamed the bid team for failing to send a senior leader or government official to a meeting about the requirements and costs.
Bach told the AP that separate meetings with Oslo and the two other bid teams took place on Tuesday in Lausanne, a day before the Norwegian government debate.
"Contrary to prior announcements, no government representative was in this meeting," Bach said. "Everybody can draw his own conclusions."
Bach said Norway is missing out on $880 million in sponsorship and television revenues that the IOC will be providing to the 2022 organizers, a 25-per cent increase over the sum Vancouver received for the 2010 Olympics.
"All this shows that this was very much a political decision," Bach said. "This why we are feeling so sorry for sport in Norway and the athletes."
Bach acknowledged that the Winter Games are facing a difficult period.
"The number of candidates for winter is already very limited by geography," he said. "Also we can't forget that this is a challenging time with regard to the world economy."
But Bach insisted the image and brand of the Olympics remains strong, citing the recent signing of long-term commercial agreements, including NBC's record $7.75 billion deal for U.S. rights through 2032.
"The Olympic Games are and will be the premium product," he said. "Nobody would enter into such kind of agreements if there would be a doubt on the image."
Many cities have been scared off by the record $51 billion price tag associated with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. While most of that money went to long-term regeneration and infrastructure projects, not the cost of running the games, cities remain wary of the expense.
"We have to communicate, communicate, communicate about the two different budgets," Bach said. "We have to see how we can reduce the costs of the management of the games and the cost of bidding for the games."
Oslo's exit ensures the Olympics will be going to Asia for a third consecutive time, following the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Normally, the IOC prefers to rotate the games among continents.
"You look into economy or sports, it's always the same, everywhere the same," Bach said. "Asia is on the rise."
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