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Kazakh Leader Calls For 'Historic' Decision On 2022 Olympics

  • RFE/RL

The prime minister of Kazakhstan has challenged the International Olympic Committee to make a "historic decision" by awarding the 2022 Winter Olympics to Almaty rather than Beijing.

"Almaty is not a risky choice for 2022," Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov told the IOC delegates meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "In fact, we are quite the opposite. We are a golden opportunity. We are a golden opportunity to prove that smaller, advancing nations can successfully host the Winter Games."

Masimov, who was accompanied by Sochi Olympic figure skating bronze medalist Denis Ten, emphasized that Almaty offers real snow and mountain conditions, as opposed to the man-made snow conditions expected from rival bidder Beijing.

Despite his forceful plea, Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Olympics, entered the competition as the favorite as it bids to become the first city to stage both summer and winter games.

Beijing's team was headed by Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, and he was accompanied by two retired sports stars -- former big-league basketball player Yao Ming and two-time Grand Slam tennis champion Li Na.

Almaty hopes to bring the games to Central Asia for the first time and help raise Kazakhstan's profile on the international stage. The committee is due to vote on the selection later on July 31.

Each city was given 45 minutes to make their final pitches, with another 15 minutes allotted for questions and answers. The presentations could help sway any undecided members ahead of the secret ballot among 85 eligible voters.

Almaty is bidding for a second time, but this is the first time it made it to the vote after being cut in the preliminary stage for the 2014 Games.

Almaty went first in the presentations and hammered hard on its "Keeping it Real" theme, which is an indirect attack on Beijing's lack of snow and winter sports tradition, and the long distances between the Chinese capital and mountain venues.

Almaty portrayed its bid as one that goes back to the tradition of the Winter Games, showing videos featuring towering peaks and deep snow and stressing that all venues are within a 30-kilometer radius.

"It is also important for the games' ambience," Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov said. "The television broadcast will have breathtaking scenes of beautiful mountains full of fresh snow to frame the games and refresh the brand."

The prime minister directly addressed the idea that the IOC considers China a safer, more dependable choice.

"We've heard the sentiment that if you do not select Almaty, then you, the IOC, can 'sleep well at night' for the next seven years," Masimov said. "I find that a curious statement."

Masimov said the IOC has been "brave" in the past, including by challenging apartheid in South Africa, going to Moscow for the 1980 Games at the height of the Cold War, and giving the games to Beijing in 2008.

"Those were visionary, heroic declarations about sport's ability to serve humanity," he said. "And, in each case, you were right. So today, we ask you to have faith in us, to have faith in Kazakhstan. Our request is not simply based on blind faith. It is based on facts, the facts that you need to make an historic decision -- historic not only for Kazakhstan, but for the Olympic Movement as well."

After the presentation, Kazakhstan's bid vice chairman Andrey Kryukov lauded the prime minister's performance.

"He is a superstar," he said.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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