By Nick Butler at the InterContinental in Almaty

Almaty 2022 vice-president Andrey Kryukov (right) defended the use of a former doping cheat as a Bid Ambassador ©Almaty 2022Almaty 2022 has today defended the use of Alexander Vinokourov, the cyclist who served a two-year ban after being caught blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France, as an Ambassador for the bid, while also reiterating commitments to human rights following alleged abuse in Kazakhstan. 

Vinokourov, who returned from his ban to win the London 2012 Olympic cycling road race title before retiring, is one of Kazakhstan's best known athletes, and is now general manager of the Astana Pro Team, whose members include reigning Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali.

But in a global sense his reputation is synonymous with the doping tainted era also populated by the likes of American Lance Armstrong.

This is particularly due to the way he was caught, following a time trial victory and then a brazen mountain-top win on stage 15 of the 2007 Tour, which briefly left him as yellow jersey favourite, with his failed test then forcing the withdrawal of the whole Astana team.

The 41-year-old does not appear to have played any formal role yet in Almaty's bid, which is locked in a two-horse race with Beijing for the 2022 Games, and he is not visibly present here during the ongoing International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission inspection.

But he is listed as the first Bid Ambassador on the Almaty 2022 website here, where his achievements before and after his suspension are listed, although there is no mention of his intervening ban.

Former doping cheat Alexander Vinokourov is listed as an Almaty 2022 Bid Ambassador ©Almaty 2022Former doping cheat Alexander Vinokourov is listed as an Almaty 2022 Bid Ambassador ©Almaty 2022

When asked by insidethegames, Almaty 2022 vice-chairman Andrey Kryukov insisted that, as there is no evidence he is currently involved in doping, they do not see any negative impact on his involvement in the bid. 

"His title is Olympic champion in London," Kryukov, a World Anti-Doping Agency Foundation Board member, added.

However, Vinokourov's presence is still likely to cause alarm and negative publicity, particularly because five Astana riders tested positive last year, almost leading the team to lose its WorldTour licence.

After the licence was awarded, International Cycling Union President Brian Cookson said the team "can be considered very much to be on probation".

Doping has also been a significant factor in other recent Olympic bid's, with Japan's virtually flawless record in comparison to Turkey and Spain's less successful one a key factor in Tokyo's victory over Istanbul and Madrid in the 2020 Summer race. 

During the presentations at the decisive IOC Session in Buenos Aires, questions on doping were asked to the candidates by Adam Pengilly, the British member who forms part of the 2022 IOC Evaluation Commission here this week.

Human rights, another key issue which has dogged preparations for recent Games, particularly ahead of Sochi 2014 last year, was also raised today, following a report by Human Rights Watch that said how Almaty 2022 puts alleged abuse in Kazakhstan, which has been led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev since independence in 1991, in the spotlight.

Almaty's compact and picturesque bid has attempted to fight off the potential challenges of doping and human rights issues today ©ITGAlmaty's compact and picturesque bid has attempted to fight off the potential challenges of doping and human rights issues today ©ITG

The claims included alleged restrictions on freedom of expression and press independence, as well as its supposedly heavy-handed putting down of trade union protests in 2011.

This comes after a clause regarding respect of human rights was inserted into the IOC's Host City Contract for the 2022 candidates last year.

"As you know, the IOC very seriously pays attention on these matters," Kryukov said today.

"We of course support human rights."

The official then insisted that the country does not have any special law that discriminates against any group, adding the issue was not mentioned by the IOC during today's meeting.

He went on to say that the bid team would address any further concerns if they were raised. 

Meanwhile, the IOC Evaluation Commission, which is chaired by Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov, today tackled the themes of accommodation, transportation and media facilities, as well as proposed venues.

The Sunkar Jumping Hills is one of the most attractive features of the Almaty 2022 bid ©ITGThe Sunkar Jumping Hills is one of the most attractive features of the Almaty 2022 bid ©ITG

Proceedings began with an address by Kazakhstan's Minster for Foreign Affairs, Yerlan Idrissov, followed by a series of presentations and discussions, before the 12-strong panel visited five different venues in the City Cluster.

These consisted of the Ice Palace, a venue already being built for the 2017 Winter Universiade that would serve as the main ice hockey venue in 2022, as well the Central Stadium where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies would take place and the Baluan Sholak Sports Palace, a multi-purpose facility which would serve as a secondary location for ice hockey.

A visit was also made to the Medals Plaza site, adjacent to a monument celebrating Kazakh independence, as well as the Sunkar Precinct in which ski jumping, Nordic combined and sliding sports would all be held.

The ski jumping venue, boasting five jumps and an iconic city centre location that could produce images of the city comparable with those seen at the Barcelona 1992 Summer Games diving venue, is a major asset for the bid, seen as one of the best facilities for the sport in the world. 

"Day two was fantastic," concluded Kryukov.

"We had an excellent opportunity to continue our dialogue with the IOC and exchange information.

"I am very pleased with Almaty's second day of its first-ever IOC Evaluation Commission visit."

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