KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach expects the vote to determine which city will host the 2022 Winter Olympics will come down to the quality of sports facilities for athletes, and which bid is perceived as the most sustainable.
Bach is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the IOC will vote Friday to choose between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.
"The key issue is to deliver a great games for the athletes, and that means having (a bid) which offers great conditions in the sport facilities but also to have a project which addresses the issues of Olympic Agenda 2020, that means to have sustainable and feasible Olympic Games," Bach said. "And this is what both Beijing and Almaty are offering — this is why my IOC colleagues will have to take a very difficult decision."
Almaty backers promote the bid as being the most compact for the Winter Olympics in 30 years, and say it is the most affordable alternative. Beijing offers experience of hosting the Olympics, and a number of existing world-class facilities.
Beijing and Almaty are the only two contenders remaining in a race depleted by withdrawals when public opposition and financial concerns in Europe began whittling the field of candidates one by one. St. Moritz/Davos and Munich dropped proposed bids after they were rejected in referendums in Switzerland and Germany. Stockholm; Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine; and Oslo, Norway, all dropped out of the race.
Beijing, which would host Nordic events in Zhangjiakou, 160 kilometres (100 miles) to the north, says a high-speed railway will link the cities in 50 minutes and makes the bid more feasible.
The Chinese capital, which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, is aiming to become the first city to hold both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Chinese organizers have repeatedly stressed they would put on "sustainable" and "economical" games, using infrastructure from the 2008 Summer Games and promising to leave a "powerful legacy" by developing a winter sports market for China and east Asia.
Critics point to China's lack of Alpine venues, and the distance from Beijing of suitable mountainous regions as having a negative impact on the bid.
Beijing insists it has sufficient water supplies for snow-making and can provide excellent conditions for ski competitions.
Both countries have been assailed for their human rights records. Human Rights Watch issued a report criticizing Kazakhstan's "hostility and abuse" toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. China has been involved in a recent crackdown on rights lawyers.
Beijing bid spokeswoman Wang Hui defended the Chinese bid on Monday, telling a news conference that having deep snow does not guarantee a successful Winter Olympics.
"In addition to snow, you also must have the capacity to receive games clients, to organize games, to provide all the necessary facilities for tourists, have a strong security arrangement and other areas," she said. "In the unlikely event of extreme weather condition, we have the capacity to rely entirely on artificial snow-making facilities and comply with all snow requirements."
Beijing's bid team indicates that one machine is able to produce 20 tons of snow per hour, she said. Snow making will only take 2-3 per cent of current water supply in Zhangjiakou and the ski resort stores water in summer months, she added.
Wang said European experts who visited Zhanjiakou found it to be suitable for winter sports, with the dry climate allowing snow to retain its shape, and having a three-zone cluster of facilities was feasible for the games.
"There is no need for concern," she said, adding that the distance between venues was not a negative factor either. "If you look at the history of previous Winter Olympics, 50 minutes from an ice sports venue to a snow sports venue is not the longest.
"China is a big country with a huge population and an increasing number of young people having a strong desire in sports, so the three-zone concept is much more aligned in the long term with the sustainable use of the venues," Wang said. "For China, the end of the games is the beginning of many years of sustainable and healthy use of the venue legacy."
Eileen Ng, The Associated Press