Beijing was chosen Friday to host the 2022 Winter Games despite one big hurdle to its candidacy: little natural snow.
The International Olympic Committee voted 44-40 to make Beijing the first city to host both the winter and summer games. The only other bid, from Almaty in Kazakhstan, had flaws that included a lack of hotel rooms and scant experience with international events.
“I expected a close vote,” IOC President Thomas Bach, who is overseeing changes to cut costs and attract younger audiences to events by 2020, said at a press conference. “In Almaty, the focus was more on the sustainability of pillar of the Olympic 2020 Agenda, and in Beijing more the youth pillar. For the IOC members, that makes it a difficult decision.”
Choosing between two imperfect candidates highlighted the bind that confronted the selection committee this year. Cities more closely associated with winter sports such as Oslo, Munich and Stockholm dropped out, citing a lack of popular support and the soaring price tag to stage the games.
Beijing, which spent more than $30 billion on 2008’s event, is projecting another $3.1 billion on winter venues. That’s lower than Almaty’s $3.6 billion and a fraction of the $51 billion Russia spent for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. The IOC will contribute an estimated $880 million toward the games.
Beijing will reuse 2008 venues for indoor events, while most of the outdoor competition will take place in Yanqing, 44 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of Beijing, and Zhangjiakou, another 55 miles away.
“The people of China fully support Beijing in the bid and preparation for the games,” Wang Anshun, the city’s mayor and head of its bid, said. “The weather conditions, temperature, and topography are highly suitable for ice and winter sports. We have a strong group of legacy venues from 2008 and we shall build more for 2022.”
The biggest question mark about the Chinese proposal was whether the IOC was willing to look beyond the fact that Beijing will need to make almost all the snow needed for the alpine events.
In an assessment released June 1, the IOC’s 2022 evaluation commission noted both candidate cities suffered from air pollution and said creating so much man-made snow would strain already scant water resources around Yanqing. Beijing’s bid also poses aesthetic concerns.
“There could be no snow outside of the racecourse, especially in Yanqing, impacting the visual perception of the snow sports setting,” the IOC said in its assessment.
Almaty’s candidacy slogan -- “Keeping it real” -- was a not-so-subtle jibe at Beijing’s need for fake snow and its lack of a winter-sports tradition. Yet Almaty suffered its own flaws, among them a lack of accommodation. Ninety percent of current and new hotel rooms would have been taken up by games clients, forcing spectators to stay in student dormitories and with local residents.
The two candidates also raised human rights concerns. Human Rights Watch said the bidding had come down to two countries with “extremely poor human rights records” and called on the IOC to ensure the host cities’ commitment to labor rights, press freedom and prohibiting discrimination.
— With assistance by Haixing Jin