Kazakhstan: Step Aside Sochi, Here Comes Almaty 2022
Amid the cut and thrust of the sporting competition in Sochi, Kazakhstan's Olympic officials have been busy schmoozing to build support for Almaty’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.The Kazakh Olympic Committee has opened a hospitality center in the heart of Sochi’s Olympic Park, offering visitors the chance to try delicacies such as kazy (dried horsemeat sausage), karta (made from the animal’s large intestine) and kurt (a dried curd snack), and watch some video presentations detailing Almaty's bid.One notable visitor was Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, who told Kazinform he is confident Almaty is a strong contender and praised Kazakhstan's athletes—although they have not performed as well as some expected, with figure skater Denis Ten's bronze thus far Kazakhstan's only medal. Kazakhs officials played down fears of excessive costs after spending on Sochi 2014 broke record after record. “It will not be a big budget,” Andrey Kryukov, an executive board member of the Kazakh Olympic Committee told reporters in Sochi on February 20, eager to demonstrate Kazakhstan’s frugality, which Sochi has made fashionable.Early estimates from Kazakhstan's Olympic Committee put the costs of hosting the 2022 Games at around $5 billion, a modest sum compared with Sochi 2014, which President Vladimir Putin pitched at $12 billion but ended up costing an embarrassing $51 billion—the most expensive Olympics in history and more expensive than all previous Winter Games combined. Overhead in Almaty is lower because Kazakhstan’s erstwhile capital would only need to build a combined bobsleigh and luge track, a covered ice stadium and the Olympic village to house athletes, Kryukov said. It already has facilities built for the 2011 Asian Winter Games and is currently splashing out $1 billion on constructing more amenities for the 2017 Winter Universiade, which brings together student athletes from around the world. Kazakhstan will want to keep costs under control as it is already battling with the effects of the 19-percent tenge devaluation this month, which has seen Astana dipping into the National Oil Fund to prop up the economy.Corruption also needs to be kept in check to stop costs spiraling. About half the Sochi bill is thought to have been embezzled. A recent case, linked to the 2011 Asian Winter Games, shows corruption concerns are real in Kazakhstan, which Transparency International ranked 140 out of 177 countries in its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index (Russia came in at 127). Aidar Musin, part of the 2011 Asian Winter Games’ organizing committee, has been accused of embezzling over $3 million, Tengri News reported on February 18, through a tender related to the construction of a ski-jumping complex. Of course, rampant corruption didn’t stop Russia from getting the Games and Kazakhstan is hoping third time’s a charm. Almaty 2022, which is to be submitted by March 14, will be the country’s third Olympic bid. Kazakhstan failed to make the shortlists for the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics. This time it is bidding against only four rivals: Oslo, Beijing, Lviv and Krakow. Stockholm pulled out of the race because of public concerns about the potential cost. The final list of candidate cities will be announced in July 2014, with a decision on the winner due in July 2015.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.