With nine months still to go before the International Olympic Committee votes on a 2022 Winter Olympics host, there are only two cities left in the running: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China.
Beijing is the favourite by default, despite IOC concerns about snowfall, travel, and winter sports experience.
In May the IOC released a report on the three remaining bids — Oslo, Beijing, and Almaty. The IOC graded the bids from 1 to 10 in 14 different categories (venues, transportation, safety, etc.).
Oslo was the clear frontrunner. They got the best average maximum scores (8.9 out of 10), Beijing got the second best (8.3), and Almaty got the worst (7.3).
That leaves Beijing as the new favourite, but that doesn’t mean the bid is flawless, far from it.
Here are some of the concerns laid out in the IOC report on Beijing:
1. It barely snows there. The IOC report says that the mountain events will have to take place on man made snow:
“There appears to be a risk of low natural snow depths, as well as relatively high daytime maximum temperatures. High capacity snowmaking systems would be required.”
The average snow depth in Yanqing, the proposed location for the alpine skiing events, is 5 centimeters. For comparison, the average snow depth at Oslo’s proposed alpine skiing venue was 100 centimeters. Similar low-snow conditions in Sochi lead to widespread complaints from athletes when a poorly constructed halfpipe was deemed “dangerous.”
2. Nearly half the venues will have to be built from scratch. Beijing says 54% of the venues already exist and the remaining 46% of venues will be permanent if they win the 2022 Olympics. That’s not a good thing. As we’ve seen over and over again, building permanent venues for niche sports that have no utility outside the two weeks of the Olympics is wasteful and can result in white elephants.
3. A cluster of venues for some mountain events is three hours away. Events like biathlon, cross-country skiing, and ski jumping will take place in Zhangjiakou, which is a 2 hour, 44 minute drive from Beijing. The other mountain events will be held 90 minutes outside the city.
4. There are less than 600 hotel rooms around the alpine skiing venue. From the IOC report:
“The number of existing, 2-5 star classified rooms in Beijing (105,000), largely exceeds Olympic Winter Games’ needs (24,200 rooms). However, there are only 550 existing 2-5 star rooms within a radius of 10km of the Zhangjiakou Zone.”
Hopefully Beijing will learn from Sochi when it comes to building Olympic hotels on time.
5. China isn’t used to hosting winter sporting events. China has never really done this before, the IOC concluded:
“Beijing has many years of experience in running events in ISU disciplines (Figure Skating and Short Track Speed Skating) and some experience in Curling and Ice Hockey events. In general, however, there is a lack of experience in organising outdoor winter sports events.”
The IOC report gave each bid minimum and maximum scores in the 14 categories. A score of 6 out of 10 is considered the benchmark. In the categories for competition venues (5.5) and transportation (5.0), Beijing’s minimum scores were below that benchmark.
Oslo hit the benchmark in every category except “government support” (which turned out to be 100% justified since the Norwegian government killed the bid).
Almaty failed to hit the benchmark in 9 out of 14 categories based on minimum scores, which tells you why Beijing is such a big favourite.
The bidding process for the 2022 Olympics was a disaster. The IOC knows this. That’s why they’re trying to implement widespread reforms before the 2024 bidding process kicks into high gear. Beijing might be the frontrunner, but they’re not the city the IOC wanted.
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