Scrapping plans to hold Alpine skiing events at Shymbolak Resort are among several changes to Almaty's bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics revealed here today as the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Evaluation Commission came to an end.
Speaking following the end of the five-day inspection to the former Kazakh capital, IOC Commission chairman Alexander Zhukov claimed the 12-strong panel were satisfied with the bid's commitment to many aspects, including Almaty's embracing of the Agenda 2020 reform process.
Strong Governmental support and public backing, as well as an agreement to respect IOC Charter commitments regarding human rights, were also highlighted.
Zhukov also praised the "beauty" of proposed facilities, describing the city-centre Sunkar ski jumping centre as "one of the best venues in the world".
But, it was the abandonment of plans to use the iconic Shymbolak Resort that was the most interesting development to emerge today, with the 60-year old Soviet remnant having been presented as one iconic cornerstone of Almaty's bid here this week.
Yet the International Ski Federation (FIS) had expressed concerns about aspects of the proposed downhill and super G course, it was claimed.
Almaty officials had been initially planning extensive renovation work to improve it before the Games but have now scrapped that plan.
All Alpine skiing competitions will now take place at the Tau Park ski resort in the Tabagan Cluster, which reportedly satisfies FIS commitments.
Changes to Bid Book proposals are not usually made during the bidding process but this
has been presented as in line with the flexibility of Agenda 2020, and could save projected redevelopment costs of around $100 million (£65 million/€88 million) at Shymbolak.
Among other changes, there will now be no Mountain Media Centre at the Medeu Cluster, presumably because speed skating is now the only sport which will be held there, while the Medeu Olympic Village will also be downsized.
In, what has been described by Almaty 2022 vice-chairman Andrey Kryukov as "efficient modernisation", organisers will also look to reduce the budget in other areas, lessen environmental impact, and increase legacy benefits for the local population.
A deadline of March 4 has been set by the IOC for Almaty to provide the necessary guarantees for these changes.
Zhukov, as is usual during IOC Evaluation Commission inspections, did not directly respond to questions on weaknesses in Almaty's bid or on comparisons with its only remaining rival, Beijing, which is due to be inspected from March 24 to 28.
But he repeatedly pointed out that Almaty is a "qualified candidate" to host the Games.
Zhukov, Russia's former Deputy Prime Minister, who played a key role in preparations for Sochi 2014 last year, insisted they were "very satisfied" with levels of political support
Top level Governmental backing has been perceived as a possible weakness in Almaty's bid, with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev having given few supportive public statements in comparison with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, who has repeatedly backed Beijing's bid.
Kazakh Prime Minister and Almaty 2022 chairman Karim Massimov was due to meet the IOC Commission this week, but was claimed he was unable to attend due to ongoing political distractions in capital Astana.
But Zhukov claimed the IOC have received all the required Government guarantees, and have met with several key officials, including Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yessimov and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Yerlan Idrissov, during this visit.
They have also "asked for and received assurances" that Almaty will comply with Olympic Charter requirements regarding human rights, with alleged abuses a potential weakness for both the Kazakh and Chinese bids.
The Russian claimed the freshly introduced Olympic Charter requirement relates purely to during the Olympics itself, adding that "we should not and could not interfere in national policy outside the Games".
High levels of public support were also cited, with an IOC commissioned survey finding at least 75 per cent of the local population support the bid, although both Zhukov and Kryukov, who spoke afterwards, faced questions regarding the opposition movement.
This included the suggestion that the Games could not be afforded at a time of economic unease and Government cuts in Kazakhstan, a similar reason to that which forced European contenders Stockholm, Kraków and Oslo to all exit the race last year.
The question was batted away by Kryukov, who reiterated state support for spending plans, and claimed that, with oil prices beginning to stabilise once again, economic factors should not be a major concern.
Almaty are still widely seen as the underdogs in the two-horse race but will go into the next stage of the contest pleased with their performance this week.
The strengths of their bid - based around a compactness and sustainability - have come to the fore.
The next major major milestone for Almaty will be the publication of the IOC Evaluation Commission reports on both bids, which is due to be on June 1.
The two cities are then scheduled to present to the IOC members at a Candidate City Briefing in Lausanne on June 8.
A final decision as to which city will host the 2022 Games is then due to be made at the IOC Session in Kuala Lumpur on July 31.
Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]
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