By Nick Butler at the InterContinental in Almaty

The IOC Evaluation Commission has arrived at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Almaty for five days of inspection visits ©KazTourismAlmaty 2022 vice-president Andrey Kryukov has hailed the importance of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Evaluation Commission visit to Kazakhstan, a crucial moment in the city's bid to host the Winter Games. 

Chaired by Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov and also containing fellow IOC members Adam Pengilly, Barry Maister and Tsunekazu Takeda, the 12-strong panel will spend five days here evaluating the overall concept, vision, themes and proposed competition and non-competition venues.

It is, therefore, a significant test for Almaty in a race in which its only rival Beijing is considered the clear favourite, meaning the Kazakhstan city can afford no slip-ups if the Games is to be brought to the country for the first time. 

"We are thrilled to welcome chairman Zhukov and the IOC Evaluation Commission," said Kryukov, an International Swimming Federation Bureau member, considered a key asset of the bid, today

"The Evaluation Commission sessions will teach us a lot about the potential of our Games concept.

"This is a very important day for Almaty, for Kazakhstan and indeed the entire Central Asian region.

"The impact of Almaty 2022's Olympic legacy will be far reaching, not only in helping us meet the growing demand for winter sport infrastructure in the region, but also in serving as a catalyst for economic and societal progress as well."

Almaty 2022 will be keen to convey the beauty of the city as well as the sustainability of their bid during the visit of the IOC's Evaluation Commission ©Almaty 2022Almaty 2022 will be keen to convey the beauty of the city as well as the sustainability of their bid during the visit of the IOC's Evaluation Commission ©Almaty 2022

The visit will begin in earnest tomorrow morning with a briefing in the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where the members of the Evaluation Commission are staying, followed by the first of many sets of site visits. 

With the inspection the first since the unanimous approval of the IOC's Agenda 2020 reform process in December, proceedings should be conducted in a more austere, sustainable climate, with the IOC having taken over the costs of the week from the bid cities.

Indeed, projecting their bid as sustainable and in line with Agenda 2020 is imperative for Almaty, who are utilising eight venues which are already completed in a compact manner very much at odds with most other recent Winter Olympic bids.

In comparison, Beijing, due to be inspected from March 24 to 28, have a more fragmented bid, based around two venue clusters in the capital but also in Zhangjiakou 190 kilometres to the northwest.

Since the withdrawal of the four European contenders - Stockholm, Kraków, Lviv and Oslo - last year, the 2022 race has appeared low-key, with Almaty in particular suffering from a lack of exposure, publicity, and on occasions, an apparent lack of desire from some quarters.

But, with several key consultancy appointments - including of Terrence Burns, managing director of Teneo Strategy, who worked on Pyeongchang's successful bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, and Andrew Craig, head of The Craig Company, who worked on London 2012 - the city will be keen to show they are now fully-focused and believe they can still win a race that has already proved capable of producing the unexpected.

With their recently unveiled bid slogan, "Keeping it Real" an attempt to highlight the differences between the sustainability of Almaty's bid and the more ambitious one of Beijing, it is just still possible the race could re-explode into life.

If that is to happen, the next five days surely have to be five successful ones for Almaty. 

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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