Beijing has won the right to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, beating its only competitor Almaty, Kazakhstan to become the first city in history to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
On Friday, IOC members voted for Beijing in a narrow vote during the sport organization’s 128th session held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Beijing received 44 votes whereas Almaty had 40.
The Beijing Winter Games will of course come just 14 years after the 2008 Summer Olympics held in the same city.
Ahead of today’s vote, many had deemed the 2022 Winter Games as the ‘Games that nobody wants’. Over the past year, the IOC found itself in a conundrum when most of the prospective applicant cities melted away.
Munich, Oslo (Norway), Krakow (Poland), Davos/St. Moritz (Switzerland), Stockholm (Sweden) canceled their bids due to low public support and fears of high costs following Sochi 2014’s record $51 billion expenses. Lviv in Ukraine dropped out due to its ongoing political, social and economic instability due to the Ukrainian crisis.
Beijing and Almaty, the only two bid cities, made presentations to 85 voting IOC members just prior to the host city vote, with Beijing emphasizing on its position as the safe choice. China has the experience as a recent Olympic host and possesses the financial capacity to repeat its success.
“You trusted us then (Beijing 2008) and we delivered on every expectation,” said Yu Zaiqing, IOC member for China during Beijing’s presentation. “We hope you will trust us now to deliver Games that will perfectly align with the expectations of the IOC and Agenda 2020.”
Chinese president Xi Jinping did not attend the IOC session, but he delivered a video message that was played in the convention hall early in the Beijing presentation.
“We will honour all the commitments we have made and fully implement the Olympic Agenda 2020,” said Xi. “Let me assure you that if you choose Beijing, the Chinese people will present to the world a fantastic and excellent Winter Games in Beijing.
While the 2008 Games were China’s ‘coming out’ party, Beijing plans to use the 2022 Games for more practical purposes – as a tourism and economic generator as well as opportunity to bring winter sports to 300 million people in the region.
Almaty, population 1.6 million, fought hard to rid itself of the perception that it is a risky choice. The largest city in Kazakhstan has a number of Soviet-era sport venues that bid proponents had promised will be renovated to Olympic standards in addition to the construction of required new venues, transportation infrastructure and even hotels.
“We’ve heard the sentiment that if you do not select Almaty, then you, the IOC, can ‘sleep well at night’ for the next seven years,” Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov told IOC delegates. “I find that a curious statement.”
“Almaty is not a risky choice for 2022. In fact, we are quite the opposite. We are a golden opportunity to prove that smaller, advancing nations can successfully host the Winter Games.”
The Kazakhstan bid also presented itself as the ‘real winter’ option as Almaty experiences snow and is surrounded by mountains. All venues in its bid proposal are within a 30 kilometre radius.
In contrast, Beijing’s plan for its mountain venues largely depends on improved snowmaking capabilities, but bid proponents countered the idea that the Games will not occur in an authentic winter.
“China in winter is spectacular,” Wang Anshun, Mayor of Beijing and President of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Bid Committee, told the IOC. “More than half of our country experiences temperatures below freezing.”
To address air quality concerns during the Winter Games, Beijing is expected to utilize the same temporary measures used to dramatically reduce pollution during the 2008 Games and last year’s APEC meeting. This includes shutting down factories, energy plants and introducing road rationing laws that restrict car usage.
Beijing, population 21 million, intends to reuse existing legacy venues from the 2008 Games. A total of 11 of the 12 competition and non-competition venues already exist within Beijing: the Bird’s Nest National Stadium (Opening & Closing Ceremonies), Water Cube National Aquatic Centre (Curling), Wukesong Sports Centre (Ice Hockey), National Indoor Stadium (Ice Hockey), Capital Indoor Stadium (Figure Skating, Short Track) and the China National Convention Centre (Media Centre).
All of these venues are located within or near the Olympic Park built for the 2008 Games. The only new venues planned for Beijing are the Speed Skating Oval and an Athletes Village, both slated for the Olympic Park.
A new high-speed rail line that starts near the Olympic Park will connect athletes, spectators and media to the mountain sites where the snow and sliding sports will be held.
The new rail line is designed to cut down the travel time from Yangging and Zhangjiakou, about 60 and 140 kilometres away from Beijing. With the rail line, travel to Zhangjiakou – the furthest venue cluster – will take just 50 minutes.
Sliding events (Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton) and Alpine Skiing are planned for Yangging while Biathlon, Cross Country, Nordic Combined, Ski Jumping, Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding are planned for Zhangjiakou, with some venues backdropped by the Great Wall. Satellite Athletes Villages and media facilities will also be built for the Yangging and Zhangjiakou clusters.
A new secondary international airport will be built in Beijing to serve the city’s growing air travel demand. Construction began earlier this year on the airport, which will have a capacity of accommodating 72 million passengers per year. When combined with the capacity of the existing Beijing Capital International Airport, Beijing’s two airports will have a total capacity of 150 million passengers per year.
On the matter of human rights record, activists have targeted both bids, particularly Beijing given the 2008 Games’ record of forced evictions and the usage of heavy-handed domestic security forces to silence dissent.
China’s human rights record and environmental conditions continue to deteriorate, despite promises of lasting reforms and changes as a legacy of hosting the 2008 Games.
Meanwhile, oil-wealthy Kazkahstan has been ruled by President Nursultan Nazarbayev since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. He has won landslide majorities in the nation’s highly questionable elections, and in 2007 a constitution amendment was made to eliminate term limits on his presidency.
As every European bid city decided to drop out of the race, it ensured that a country with a poor human rights record would host 2022. Following Rio de Janeiro 2016, three consecutive Olympics will be held in Asia: Pyeongchang 2018, Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022.