The 2022 Winter Olympics will be coming to Asia.
Oslo withdrew its bid last week, leaving Beijing and Kazakhstan’s former capital Almaty as the only cities still vying to host the XXIV Winter Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will hold the final vote in July 2015.
No matter which city lands the bid, it’ll be the first time two consecutive Winter Games are held on the Asian continent. In fact, three consecutive Olympics will be staged in Asia beginning with Pyeongchang, Korea, for the Winter Games in 2018, followed by the Tokyo Summer Games in 2020.
Oslo, which had been the heavy favorite to land the 2022 bid, withdrew because of mounting political and local opposition to hosting the Games. A winter sports superpower, Norway held the Olympics twice previously – 1952 in Oslo and 1994 in Lillehammer, with the latter considered by many as the best Winter Games ever staged.
But the Olympics have changed much in the past two decades and not necessarily for the better. It has become prohibitively expensive to host the Games, with the IOC demanding all sorts of infrastructure improvement from venues to transportation facilities.
The 2014 Sochi Olympics shattered all records with a $51 billion price tag. And since the Games took place in February, the resort city on the Black Sea has pretty much become a ghost town with the mountain cluster site that held most of the events all but abandoned.
Oslo’s organizing committee had promised to host the Games at a fraction of Sochi’s cost, but the public had always been skeptical because most Olympics have ended up with budget overruns, saddling the host sites with heavy debt for decades to come. The Norwegian capital was only the last of the European cities to reject hosting an event that has long been dominated by Northern European and North American nations.
Munich, and a proposed combined bid by Swiss resorts of Davos and St. Moritz, never submitted their candidacies after local referendums were widely rejected. Stockholm, Krakow (Poland) and Lviv (Ukraine) did enter bids but quickly pulled out, with cost and lack of public support as the primary reasons.
In his Sunday broadcast of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, British satirist John Oliver pointed out that the IOC also makes many absurd requirements on the host cities in terms of how its poobahs should be treated, noting: (full video)
“It turns out it might have something to do with the IOC’s 7,000 pages of host nation demands, including, and these are all real: demands to be presented to the king [or head of state]; that the hotel’s mini bar must be stocked with Coke products; that [IOC] members should be greeted with a smiling, positive and welcoming staff; and with seasonal fruit and pastries waiting for them in the hotel rooms.”
There is little wonder that the more the public knows about the inner-workings of the IOC, the more it’s turned off by it. That’s why it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the governing body to find democratic nations, where politicians in most cases must accede to the will of the voters, willing to host the Winter Olympics.
There was no question that the IOC desperately wanted Oslo to host the 2022 Winter Games. In its own Working Group Report rating the three applicant cities, Oslo outscored Beijing and Almaty in every category except public support.
Kazakhstan’s largest city in fact received failing grades in half of the categories in the report. Therefore Beijing has emerged as the favorite to become the first city in history to host both Summer and Winter Olympics.
The 2008 Beijing Summer Games set the previous record of spending at $42 billion. Although its organizing committee has pledged to use some of the existing facilities built for that event, it still must fashion an entire mountain sports area from scratch as nothing of the sort exists at the moment. Zhangjiakou, located 120 miles northwest of the Chinese capital, has been selected as the site for such a cluster to be built. New highways also must be constructed to connect all the event facilities.
In addition to a less-than-ideal site to host the 2022 Games, the IOC might have to consider moving the dates from its customary February slot. There is a strong possibility that the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be moved to the winter if Qatar remains the host country.
“As a European view, the first reaction was ‘if we have to move it, January/February is the best option’,” AC Milan director Umberto Gandini told BBC, “It will have a reduced effect on the European game because many of the leagues are on winter breaks; it would make things a little bit more logical.
“It’s not impossible for the Winter Olympics to shift over 15 days, for example – so if we’re going to find a solution it must be not just for the football world but for the sporting world.”
The IOC could be in the unusual position of having to accommodate someone else, because soccer’s World Cup is far more popular than the Winter Olympics.