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Kazakhs Express Mixed Feelings About Almaty Winter Olympics Bid

  • RFE/RL's Kazakh Service

It's decision time for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which must choose on July 31 whether Almaty or Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Olympics. While many Kazakhs are excited about the prospect of seeing the games played in their former capital, others say the investment required to sell Almaty as a suitable site would be better spent improving ordinary citizens' living standards.

Amalbek Tshan; former lawmaker, director of the National Sports College
Beijing is a city that has already hosted an Olympic Games and has the necessary expertise and infrastructure in place. In this regard, they have the advantage. We also have already built some sports complexes and venues for the 2011 Asian Winter Games that were held in Almaty and the capital, Astana. These venues can be used again.

If Almaty wins, we face the enormous task of building an Olympic infrastructure to host the Games. But preparations are already under way here to host another sporting event -- the Winter Universiade 2017 in Almaty. Again, the same venues can be used for the Olympics. There will be a difficult road ahead of us, of course.

Bakytzhan Toregozhina; human rights activist
People in Kazakhstan have mixed feelings about hosting the Winter Games. Some believe that ordinary Kazakhs can only win from it, because new roads will be built, for example. People also believe that the usual corruption that exists in our country won't be possible during the construction of the Olympic infrastructure as the whole process will be monitored by the IOC and our officials won't be able to steal the money.

But on the hand, the significant decline in oil prices, Kazakhstan's main export commodity, has decreased the government's financial abilities. Now social-welfare benefits, maternity-leave budgets, and disability allowances are being cut and the minimum retirement age for women has been increased due to a hole in the state budget. It indicates that the country can't afford to host such a large-scale international event without making sacrifices.

Andrei Kryukov; executive board member of Kazakhstan's Olympic Committee, former Olympic athlete
Initially, the Kazakh government envisaged that the budget for the Winter Olympics would be $5 billion. But we cut down the budget by $550 million according to the International Olympic Committee's request. Now the budget is $4.5 billion. This money would stay in our country in terms of investment. We would spend only $1.7 billion for the Olympics. My point is that hosting the Olympics does not only mean expenses. It also means making profits.

By The Numbers: Almaty's Winter Olympics Bid

Abai Erekenov; environmental activist, head of the Let's Save Kokzhaylau environmental group
Almaty hasn't won the Olympics bid yet, but we already see huge expenses. I believe it would be better to invest all that money in other areas, including dealing with environmental problems. [Recent] floods and mudslides in Almaty showed that the city is not prepared to deal with these kinds of emergency situations.

All the dams in the city are old and dangerous, and can't protect the city from severe floods. They were all built during the Soviet era. The dams should be fully repaired. Floods and mudslides pose an increasingly serious threat to the city every year. It means that the authorities will have to tackle many problems before the Olympics.

Abzal Azhgaliev; short-track speed skater, former Olympian
I really want the Winter Olympics to be held in Almaty and I believe we will win the bid. Hosting an Olympics would boost the development of winter sports in Kazakhstan. We won one silver medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and a bronze in the last Winter Olympics in Sochi. I believe that Kazakh athletes are capable of winning five or six medals if the Olympics are held at home. All the sports venues we built for the 2011 Asian Winter Games can be used for the Olympics, too.

Interviews conducted by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service correspondent Ruslan Medelbek in Almaty
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