Reuters) – The choice of Beijing as host of the 2022 Winter Olympics over Kazakhstan’s Almaty was a solid vote for the tried and tested, and the financial and organisational security of China.
It will not be the picture postcard Winter Olympics with mountains blanketed in deep white snow, but a fragmented Games split between the sprawling capital city and two mountain venues almost an hour away.
By contrast, Kazakhstan had promised a winter wonderland at the foot of the Tian Shan mountains, but clearly, the IOC was in no mood for any more risks.
“I think the IOC chose certainty in this vote,” IOC Vice President Craig Reedie told Reuters. “We know how the Chinese work. There is a familiarity.”
“Kazakhstan is bigger than (Western) Europe and has 17 million people. I think there was a degree of uncertainty.”
China’s pragmatic approach of using its experience from hosting the 2008 summer Games and many of the existing venues from those Olympics, paid off as the IOC grapples with problems faced by other Games organisations.
Four of the six initial 2022 Games bidders dropped out mid-race over financial concerns or a lack of support, some scared off by the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics’ $51 billion price tag.
The IOC had initially attempted to play down the problem saying two good bids were left, before pushing through a string of reforms in December aimed at making future bidding more attractive and the Games themselves cheaper and a more lucrative prospect for host cities.
The withdrawal of Boston from the 2024 summer Games bid race earlier this week triggered even more alarm bells among the IOC, with president Thomas Bach visibly irritated by the further damage done to his organisation’s prime product.
An angry attack on Boston and its “broken promises” on Wednesday hinted at which way the 2022 decision would go, with the IOC desperate for some stability.
With the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics racing to make up for lost time after years of delays, the Pyeongchang 2018 winter Games only now picking up speed and the Tokyo 2020 Games seeing stadium plans binned, the fate of the 2022 Games destination had been sealed well before the vote in the Malaysian capital.
As much as the IOC liked Almaty’s compact concept which scored points during a presentation in June, the Olympic leaders were not prepared to go to the central Asian state where the economy largely depends on fluctuating oil prices.
Instead they wanted the solid yet unspectacular Beijing bid and the comforting embrace of China, known for delivering on commitments to the IOC, even if it meant sacrificing some or much of the atmosphere of a winter sports destination.
Beijing is unlikely to be blanketed by snow, nor will the mountains be covered by much of the white stuff when the athletes take to the slopes and sliding centres in the mountains around Yanqing and Zhangjiakou.
“There will be no snow next to the slopes. It will be brown, brown, brown,” one senior IOC member told Reuters of what conditions they would encounter in Beijing.
But the IOC is guaranteed another hugely successful Olympics in financial terms while also tapping into a growing Chinese middle class eager to try out winter sports.
“I think the sense of security was one of the reasons,” John Coates, another IOC Vice President told Reuters. “We have the benefit of knowing them and we can go there with confidence.”
The IOC was also willing to accept what looks certain to be a seven-year barrage of questions and criticism over China’s human rights record if it meant delivery and execution of the Games would be guaranteed.