Beijing, China has been selected as the host of the 2022 winter Olympics and one wonders how well it will work for the athletes. Chelsea Little a former cross country ski competitor authored a special article for the Valley News regarding the problems associated with the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) selection of Beijing, China as the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Little's first contention is that the IOC members are overwhelmingly oriented to summer sports. The selection of the 2022 games host was between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Almaty is a winter-oriented city that had hosted the 2011 Asian Games and almost all of its winter sports infrastructure already exists. Beijing has very little snow and will construct totally new venues about 100 miles away from the city for the snow events (alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing), which are expected to require machine-made snow. The region where the developments are to be built has a very dry climate and the snowmaking will need to take much-needed water from the local inhabitants. It was reported that Chinese alpine ski resorts are normally closed by the time that March rolls around.
Of course, Beijing and China have problems with human rights, smog, and environmental degradation beside being run by an oppressive regime…but Almaty is similar in those refrains. Considering what went on with Sochi (environmental debacle during construction of the venues and the invasion of the Ukraine) the IOC members do not have strict standards with regard to such social and environmental issues.
The vote for Beijing was 44 of 85 and this was two votes more than the majority needed to win, so a look at the IOC voting is relevant to the discussion. It should be known that the "IOC Evaluation Committee" were the only members to actually visit the potential host sites. This is of course, necessary because a "no-visit" policy is in effect since historically it is believed that bid cities were apt to give bribes to get IOC members' votes. Few of the voting members ever actually visited Almaty but many of them had been to the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing. How can decisions be made on the host city without actually visiting the site candidates? By the way, the Evaluation Committee released a 138-page report showing that 8 of 9 commission members preferred Almaty.
With regard to the IOC host city election process, more than half of the 100 members who vote are from countries that have not won a winter Olympic medal in the last four cycles. And countries with strong winter Olympic teams such as Austria, Czech Republic, Belarus, Finland, and Slovenia are not represented among the IOC members at all. Only 9 of the voting IOC members have ever worked in winter sports.
Of the 98 winter Olympic events, 62% of the 2014 Sochi Olympic events were held on snow. Of the 100 current IOC members, only two come from a ski background (Einar Bjoerndalen, Norwegian biathlete and Gian Franco Kasper, of the International Ski Federation). There were 15 IOC members, who did not vote on the selection. They were unwilling or unable to attend the IOC meeting in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). For, example, Bjoerndalen did not attend the meeting because he was training for the World Cup to be held in Oslo, Norway in the last season of his career. He might have been able to address the IOC members regarding his experience in Almaty.
Machine-made snow is not uncommon for alpine skiers, freestylers, and snowboarders, but most of the cross country ski and biathlon event participants will be much less familiar with the manufactured snow consistency. And warm temperatures may require salting the snow, which is used to prevent it from becoming slush during the competitions. There were some of these warm temperature problems at some of the cross country and biathlon events held in Sochi. It is assumed that all snow competitors would prefer natural snow to machine-made snow. You would imagine that the natural snow is much safer compared to salted-up ice or slush!
Economically, Kazakhstan could have afforded to host the Olympic event, which they estimated at $4.5 billion, a pittance in today's Olympic game costs, particularly compared to the $51 billion Sochi price tag in 2014. The country has the largest economy in central Asia as it is the third largest non-OPEC supplier of energy to the European Union. But the Chinese consumer market presents a rosy opportunity to the IOC, who also has it eye on sponsorship potential in China.
Understanding Little's perspective, perhaps it is time that adjustments are made in the Olympic site selection process so there is more concern for the athletes and more IOC members who have experience in the winter games are appointed to make these decisions in the future. (Photo of competitor Kikkan Randall, unrelated to author)