Sunday, August 02, 2015

2022 Winter Olympic Games --- Why not Kazakhstan?

The choice of Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games was disappointing.  The other finalist was Almaty, Kazakhstan.  Almaty?  Or for that matter Kazakhstan?  Despite the general lack of familiarity, that would have been a bold and interesting choice for events that are more than six years away.

As has been noted by everyone, Beijing has little if any snow.  Events there based on winter weather or snow will be manufactured.  The main mountain areas of snowfall nearby, 100 miles away, will still need an extensive artificial snow making operations to assure adequate slopes.  There is little history of winter sports in China in general and certainly not near any major metropolitan area where prosperous people congregate.  What Beijing and China have is money and they will have the infrastructure to support the games without question, using some of what was built for the 2008 Summer Olympics.  They also have the safe success of those games under their belt.

What Kazakhstan had was beautiful mountains and significant snow around Almaty, the country's largest city, former capital, and its commercial and cultural center.  Doing some necessary research, it was learned that Kazakhstan is larger in land area than Western Europe but has only 18mm people.  It's primary economic resource is energy based but it also has traditionally been an agricultural country.  Their leader and head of state, apparently for life, is Nursultan Nazarbayev, who wins every election with more than 95% of the vote.  The country has a "balanced foreign policy" and maintains open relations with the U.S., Russia, and China.  The fiscal situation is stable.  70% of the population practices Islam and 26% Christianity, and there are little if any extremist elements related to religion.

That all seems rather innocuous and even attractive.  Strangely, Nazarbayev's election totals have been monitored broadly by international observers, from 19 countries this year, and deemed to be be fair.  If anyone questions that, they can just look at China as a comparison which some would say has the worst of both worlds, meaning a communist dictatorship without elections and totally unfettered and often corrupt financial and commercial markets unless they are randomly curtailed for political reasons.

For many reasons, Kazakhstan would have been an Olympics to look forward to, and one that could lead to adventure travel by tourists globally in the years ahead before, during, and after, and importantly economic development and inclusion for a strategically located country with meaningful potential.  The vote by the Olympic committee charged with picking the host was exceptionally close at 44 to 40.  Given that many of those voting "for" would have or do have some economic dependence on China and few of the voters would have any dependence on Kazakhstan,  it is easy to suggest that the real favorite for the games was Almaty with its mountains, snow, and winter glory.

Too bad about this wimpy move by the Olympic governing group.  Not far ahead of FIFA it seems.


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