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Jul 31, 2015 12:19 AM

Kazakh PM: Almaty 'is not a risky choice' for 2022 Olympics

The Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) The prime minister of Kazakhstan challenged the IOC on Friday to make a "historic decision" by awarding the 2022 Winter Olympics to Almaty, painting the project as the one that offers real snow and mountain conditions as opposed to the rival bid from Beijing.

Almaty and Beijing were making their final presentations to the International Olympic Committee ahead of the vote later in the day.

Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Olympics, goes in as the favorite as it bids to become the first city to stage both summer and winter games. Almaty hopes to bring the games to Central Asia for the first time and help raise Kazakhstan's profile on the international stage.

"Almaty is not a risky choice for 2022," Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov told the IOC delegates. "In fact, we are quite the opposite. We are a golden opportunity. We are a golden opportunity to prove that smaller, advancing nations can successfully host the Winter Games."

Each city was given 45 minutes to make their final pitches, with another 15 minutes allotted for questions and answers. The presentations could help sway any undecided members ahead of the secret ballot among 85 eligible voters.

Almaty is bidding for a second time, but this is the first time it made it to the vote after being cut in the preliminary stage for the 2014 Games.

Almaty went first in the presentations and hammered hard on its "Keeping it Real" theme, which is an indirect attack on Beijing's lack of snow and winter sports tradition and the long distances between the Chinese capital and mountain venues. Almaty portrayed its bid as one that goes back to the tradition of the Winter Games, showing videos featuring towering peaks and deep snow and stressing that all venues are within a 30-kilometer (18-mile) radius.

"It is also important for the games ambience," Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov said. "The television broadcast will have breathtaking scenes of beautiful mountains full of fresh snow to frame the games and refresh the brand."

The prime minister directly addressed the idea that the IOC considers China a safer, more dependable choice.

"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," Massimov said. "I find that a curious statement."

Massimov said the IOC has been "brave" in the past, including by challenging apartheid in South Africa, going to Moscow for the 1980 Games at the height of the Cold War and giving the games to Beijing in 2008.

"Those were visionary, heroic declarations about sport's ability to serve humanity," he said. "And, in each case, you were right. So today, we ask you to have faith in us, to have faith in Kazakhstan. Our request is not simply based on blind faith. It is based on facts, the facts that you need to make an historic decision historic not only for Kazakhstan, but for the Olympic Movement as well."

After the presentation, bid vice chairman Andrey Kryukov lauded the prime minister's performance.

"He is a superstar," Kryukov said. "He is our main asset to deliver the main message."

Beijing's delegation was headed by Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong.

Dozens of pro-Beijing supporters gathered in a park just outside barriers set up to keep any potential protesters from the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, where the vote was to take place. Both bids have been criticized by watchdog groups over their human rights records, with Tibetan groups particularly harsh of China.

On Friday, supporters wearing white t-shirts with Beijing lettering handed out both Chinese and five-ring Olympic flags to passers-by.

Beijing and Almaty were both considered longshots when the 2022 bid race opened two years ago. But they were the only two candidates left after four European cities including Oslo and Stockholm pulled out for political or financial reasons. Some were scared off the by the $51 billion price tag associated with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Beijing would use several venues from the 2008 Summer Olympics, including the "Bird's Nest" stadium and "Water Cube" arena. Its mountain events would be held at venues in Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, 60 and 140 kilometers (40 and 90 miles) away from the city.

In contrast to Almaty, Beijing would rely heavily on artificial snow. Chinese officials insist they have plenty of water supplies and snow-making equipment to provide excellent conditions.

Beijing says the Olympics would help develop winter sports to a market of more than 300 million people in northern China.


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