By Nick Butler at the InterContinental in Almaty

The IOC Evaluation Commission is preparing to inspect Almaty's Winter Olympic and Paralympic bid ©Almaty 2022Officials are arriving here ahead of the first International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission inspection of the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic candidates, and the first since changes to the process were introduced as part of Agenda 2020.

Most significantly, this involves the IOC paying full costs for the five-day meeting in what is an attempt to rein in spending and ensure some bid cities are not faced with vastly smaller budgets than others. 

Every effort has been made to ensure both Almaty and its only surviving rival Beijing, due to be inspected from March 24 to 28, will receive identical levels of support in a change that formed part of a general recommendation on reducing the cost of the bidding process.

But insidethegames understands that, although useful in providing time for some equipment to be transported between the two cities, the unusually long time gap of over five weeks between the two inspections does not mark a significant shift.

It is most probably a consequence of the gap left by the withdrawal of Oslo from the contest last September, with the Norwegian capital having followed the trail set by Stockholm, Kraków and Lviv, who all withdrew during the applicant stage earlier last year. 

The 12-strong Commission, which begins its work on Saturday (February 14), will be led by Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov, a key figure involved in organising Sochi 2014. 

He will be joined by fellow IOC members Barry Maister of New Zealand and two-time skeleton Winter Olympian Adam Pengilly of Great Britain, as well as Japanese Olympic Committee head Tsunekazu Takeda, a chief architect behind Tokyo's successful bid for the 2020 Games.

Alexander Zhukov will be building on his first-hand involvement in preparations for Sochi 2014 when assessing the two bids ©Getty ImagesAlexander Zhukov will be building on his first-hand involvement in preparations for Sochi 2014 when assessing the two bids ©Getty Images

The quartet will be joined by eight experts, all focusing on differing areas of preparations, while IOC Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi and IOC head of Olympic bid city coordination Jacqueline Barrett will also make the trip.

A new bylaw to Rule 33 of the Olympic Charter agreed during Agenda 2020 decrees that the Evaluation Commission must "include an assessment of the opportunities and risks of each candidature, as well as of sustainability and legacy", in its final report following the visit.

This change, particularly in relation to sustainability, could be of benefit to Almaty because their bid is viewed as compact, seeking to take advantage of many pre-existing facilities.

Eight of the 14 venues proposed by Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan and the nation's capital until 1997, are already completed, with a further three being developed irrespective of the Games. 

In comparison, half of Beijing's 12 venues would require development from scratch, while a high-speed rail-line is also being proposed to connect Beijing and Zhangjiakou, the city 190 kilometres to the northwest where mountain events would be held.

Almaty's bid is seen as in line with Agenda 2020 desires but has struggled for impetus and support ©Almaty 2022Almaty's bid is seen as in line with Agenda 2020 desires but has struggled for impetus and support ©Almaty 2022

But, in terms of organisation, promotion and political support, Beijing's bid seems comfortably ahead, with Almaty's bid having struggled for all of these things in recent months, to the extent that Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev only publicly backed the bid in December.

In recent weeks efforts have seemingly stepped up, although, while Almaty 2022 banners can be seen at the airport and in hotels, early indications here are that the bid still seems relatively low key in the minds of the local people. 

The next five days is a major opportunity for Almaty to demonstrates improvements and a growing desire to host what would be the nation's first Olympic Games. 

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Related stories
February 2015: Basketball giant Yao among Chinese sporting "legends" unveiled as Beijing 2022 ambassadors
February 2015: Beijing 2022 Olympic bid potentially boosted as Dalian Wanda acquires Infront Sports & Media
February 2015: Almaty 2022 officially launch Twitter account ahead of IOC Evaluation Commission visit
January 2015: Affordable Almaty 2022 bid will boost local economy and environmental standards, officials claim
January 2015: China takes part in World Snow Day celebrations to promote Beijing 2022 bid