Nick Butler
Nick Butler As we have all discovered over recent weeks, there is no sport which ebbs and flows quite like curling. The momentum can shift with every shout, stone and sweep and, if there is one lesson to learn, it is that no team should get complacent when leading or abandon hope when trailing.

And that is just in the course of one end let alone an entire match.

The race for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics can be considered rather similarly.

In the weeks and months ahead of the submission of Applicant Files by the five remaining candidates last Friday - Almaty, Beijing, Kraków, Lviv and Oslo - many factors have affected the campaign and many more will continue to do so.

First we had the months of referendum-fuelled anticipation as to who would actually step forward - with proposed bids from Munich and St. Moritz/Davos failing at the ballot box and one from Oslo scraping over the line. Then we had the official announcement of the six cities, followed by an Orientation Seminar organised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne to help them on their way. Each then attended the Games in Sochi as Official Observers as they added the finishing touches to their applications.

In that time we have seen Stockholm's unlikely bid come to an end as they withdrew in January after failing to gain Government support. We have also seen the escalation of events in Ukraine which have surely now ended any hopes of a Lviv victory.

There have been protests in Lviv as in the rest of Ukraine in recent months ©AFPThere have been protests in Lviv as in the rest of Ukraine in recent months ©AFP

Lviv is a good place to start when analysing the five Applicants. It is amazing to think now that when this first ever Ukrainian Olympic bid was launched at the beginning of November, it was still several weeks before the decision to seek closer relations with Russian rather than with the European Union triggered the initial protests.  

All that has happened since, including the removal of bid leader Oleksandr Vilkul as Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, has not quite been the utter death knell of the bid. But it very nearly has, and in the current climate it seems unlikely the IOC will put the city forward as a Candidate in July.

This is a pity, because of all the bids Lviv initially seemed the most organised. They were the first to announce their bid team, the only ones to appear in Sochi in matching blazers complete with a Lviv 2022 logo, and there were genuine and exciting reasons for the bid being launched.

But, when asked what he most feared, former British Prime Minister Harold McMillan once replied: "Events, my dear boy, events." As we saw with Istanbul in the 2020 race last year, this old adage is as true for Olympic races as it is for politics.

Lviv initially, and with increasing desperation, claimed that ongoing events would not affect their bid. Yet as the death toll mounted in February, followed by the fall of the Government and the flexing of Russian muscles in Crimea, they admit that the bid is now very much on the back-burner. Although it is still going on, it is not being focused upon until the internal situation calms down. And that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.

The current plight of Oslo's bid is perhaps even more remarkable. To the casual eye the Norwegian capital appears the obvious front-runner. A stable country with a proud winter sports heritage, a tradition of hosting successful Games in 1952 and in 1994, and a strong concept related to redeveloping the capital and bringing the Olympics to a new generation.

Oslo offers a compact bid but is still facing challenges to garner public support ©AFP/Getty ImagesOslo offers a compact bid but is still facing challenges to garner public support
©AFP/Getty Images

In this latter sense the Oslo bid seemed to be modelled upon London's bid for the 2012 Games - right down to the renovation of the eastern part of the city. There were doubts from the outset about popular support given the economic problems affecting Norway but the expectation was that, like with London, these would subside as people gradually got behind the bid.

But this has so far failed to happen and if anything the dissenting voices have got louder.

The support in Oslo is mixed but outside the capital it is poor and still thought to be less than 50 per cent of the total population. The Government are also yet to provide official endorsement and will not do so until December - so after the IOC announce the Candidate Cities.

Last week, a letter was sent which outlined demands which may have to be met for this Government support to be given. As well as respect for human rights and a workers' charter, this included the IOC having to pay its own costs when visiting Oslo, which seems hardly likely to go down well in the corridors of Lausanne...

Oslo 2022 have been honest from the outset in accepting the challenges they face, and a press release to announce the Applicant File submission coated with words like "sustainable", "active" and "responsible" shows how they are striving to convince people of the merits of the bid.

But this is proving a much harder task than perhaps even they expected and their bid is currently on a downward curve which must be reversed soon.

Beijing's bid, which took everyone by surprise when first announced, is the hardest to read of the five and certainly the one I feel least qualified to consider. On the one hand, they have a clear incentive to improve the stature of winter sports and the economy, resources and political structure to do so. But the obvious problem is that, not only did the Chinese capital host the Games so recently in 2008, but with the two Olympics before 2022 to be held in Pyeongchang and Tokyo, are the IOC going to want to choose another East Asian host city?

Another problem which is perhaps more important than first thought relates to air pollution.

Beijing 2022 faces the challenge of criticism over air pollution ©ChinaFotoPress/Getty ImagesBeijing 2022 faces the challenge of criticism over air pollution
©ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

When speaking in Sochi the bid team insisted that an independent report had found that 94 per cent of the population were behind the bid. But given the subsequent criticism of measures to combat air pollution - by Chinese rather than international journalists - I find this somewhat hard to believe. Hosting the Olympics is being billed as a way to reduce the problem, but that was said before Beijing 2008 as well, and the situation has got far worse since then and is particularly bad during winter months.

So, while the IOC is unlikely to want to embarrass China with an early exit, it is hard to see them ultimately winning the race.

Kraków's bid is the dark horse. Not just because they were the only one who did not face a media grilling in Sochi but because they plan to host Alpine events across the border in neighbouring Slovakia. This is allowed under Rule 35.2 of the Olympic Charter when, for "geographical or topographical reasons", it is impossible to organise certain events or disciplines of a sport in the country of the host city. Yet it would create a precedent the IOC will be reluctant to grant.

That said it seems unfair to automatically rule out a nation's prospects because they do not have steep enough slopes to hold one sport and there are many positive elements of Kraków's bid.

Unlike Western Europe, Poland has a strong economy; Government and public support appears genuine and the incentive of bringing the country's second city of Kraków into the public eye is an appealing one. Their female-heavy bid team led by Olympic snowboarder turned Member of Parliament Jagna Marczułajtis-Walczak also appear strong.

The Krakow 2022 delegation presenting their Applicant Files to the IOC ©Krakow 2022The Krakow 2022 delegation presenting their Applicant Files to the IOC ©Krakow 2022

So at this stage, while the two-nation element is a drawback it is not something that should necessarily count them out. It sounds obvious - but they have to convince the IOC that the positives outweigh the negatives.

Finally we have Almaty. The first to officially announce their bid last year, the first to submit their Applicant Files last week and, in the views of a growing number of observers, the city likely to be first over the line when the final result is announced.

If Oslo is the archetypal Western bid, reliable but subject to the political and economic machinations of the democratic process, then Almaty is the archetypal developing world one.

On the plus side they have huge Government support, with no danger of people turning or being allowed to turn against it, a flourishing GDP enabling huge expenditure, and a genuine and powerful desire to make a name for Kazakhstan in the sports world. The 2011 Asian Winter Games co-hosted by Almaty and the capital city Astana were a huge success, with atmosphere and crowd support particularly outstanding, while most of the proposed facilities for 2022 are already in place.

On the other side, Kazakhstan has a poor human rights record, an authoritarian Government and - as shown by protests over the devaluation of the currency last month - at least some internal dissent. Although it is unlikely for the time being, it is not impossible that similar eruptions to those in Ukraine could occur at some point before 2022.

Almaty is in a very strong early position although Kazakhstan has not been immune to poular protests in recent months ©AFP/Getty ImagesAlmaty is in a very strong early position although Kazakhstan has not been immune to poular protests in recent months ©AFP/Getty Images

So while Almaty are in a strong position at this early stage there is a long way to go and a comparison with Istanbul, who were in a similarly strong position only to be unravelled by political occurrences in the final months of the race, is appropriate.

The 2020 race provided a salutary lesson for me regarding host city contests. As a written task during my interview for insidethegames last June, I was asked 'who was going to win?' Armed only with basic sporting and political knowledge I concluded Tokyo because any other result was too much of a risk. Fast forward a few weeks and on the eve of the vote in Buenos Aires I was asked the same question and answered either Istanbul or Madrid.

There is a danger of being too caught up in every move and losing sight of the bigger picture.

The point is, rather like in curling, there is so much going on and so many stones left to play. And, as the IOC now consider each application ahead of announcing the candidate cities in July, our job is to sit back and enjoy the twists and turns which lie ahead of the final decision being made in Kuala Lumpur next year.

Nick Butler is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here.