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  • Underdog Almaty Takes Advantage -- ATR Olympic Bid Power Index


    (ATR) Almaty edges Beijing in a final review before the IOC selects a host for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

    Medeo speedskating oval 20 minutes from Almaty is the highest ice rink in the world. (ATR)
    The Around the Rings Olympic Bid Power Index shows that the bid from Kazakhstan still is stronger than its rival from China, scoring a total of 71; the bid from Beijing garners 70 points.

    The Olympic Bid Power Index is a survey of strengths and weaknesses of the bids, but not necessarily a predictor of the IOC vote July 31. Despite the narrow gap enjoyed by Almaty, Beijing still has the reputation and political influence that makes it the favorite to win the majority of votes.

    The contrast between the two bids is no more pronounced than in atmosphere and snow conditions. Almaty offers vistas of mountains on the edge of the city which are covered with real snow. The mountains for Beijing are at least an hour or two away from the city and depend upon artificially-made snow.

    The IOC Evaluation Commission has noted the challenge for Beijing, identifying it as a risk. At the same time, experts with the International Ski Federation have signed off on the Beijing venue plans, which may be enough to convince IOC members to overlook this shortcoming.

     The Around the Rings Olympic Bid Power Index measures the bids across 11 categories, with a possible score of 100 points. Categories range from ambiance to venue plans and weather.

    Beijing, a city of 21 million and with the experience of hosting the 2008 Summer Games, is far superior in several categories as a result. Take accommodation, for example. The city of Beijing has all the hotels needed to take care of Winter Olympic visitors, scoring nine in the category. The only question mark in accommodations involves plans for new hotels in the mountain venues. Almaty, on the other hand, is still short about 9,000 rooms from the IOC target of 40,000 rooms.

    Lobby of the Genting Grand Hotel in Zhangjiakou, China (ATR)
    Beijing has presented a stronger bid operation than Almaty, with a much stronger communications presence.

    Almaty stands to gain more than Beijing for legacy. Once the center of Soviet winter sport, a winter Olympics could help rejuvenate Almaty as a regional hub for sport. With a population of three million -- a fraction of Beijing’s -- the impact of a Games in Almaty is likely to be greater.

    The compact nature of the Kazakh bid makes the venue plan noticeably stronger than Beijing’s, scoring eight and six respectively. Ski venues are no more than 30 km from the center of Almaty. The ski jump and sliding venue will be on the edge of town, not 100 or more kilometers away as they are in the Beijing plan. The winter Paralympics in Beijing also appeared to be a disadvantage with plans calling for all athletes to stay in the mountains which will force competitors in curling and sledge hockey to make long commutes to arenas in the city.

    In the category of transportation, both cities score a six. While Almaty may have an easier time moving people about due to the compact nature of the bid, getting there from outside the country is not so easy due to the few number of direct flights from major cities outside the region. Beijing is well connected to the rest of the world by air and has plans for a second airport to be operating by 2022. The transportation drawback for Beijing is the travel required to reach the mountain venues from the city. By automobile, the venues are an hour to more than two hours away, impractical for winter Olympic transport. The alternative is a new high-speed rail that Beijing leaders claim will drop the travel time by 40 to 70 minutes.

    Judging by the generally mediocre scores for each of the cities, this is a race between two places that aren’t quite ready to host the Winter Olympics. The IOC had few options last year for its shortlist when just three cities remained in the race for 2022 after city after city dropped out due to weak public or government support. Oslo, believed to be the city most favored by the IOC, ended its campaign after making the shortlist, also falling victim to lack of government support.

    The attrition left the IOC with the choice between Almaty and Beijing. It will be a quick decision with just one round of electronic voting by the members. Whichever city is selected will need plenty of guidance from the IOC in the next seven years.

    Written by Ed Hula

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