Much of the snow will likely be made by man and the nearest ski mountains might be a two-hour car ride away, but China will get yet another chance to flex its global muscle as Beijing was selected Friday as host of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee didn’t have a lot of options as it convened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Friday to choose the host of the 2022 Winter Games. Several other cities withdrew from consideration in the early stages of the bidding process, many citing costs and a lack of public support. Beijing was selected over Almaty, Kazakhstan, the only other finalist, by a vote of 44-40, closer than many Olympic observers expected.
Beijing previously hosted the 2008 Summer Games, considered extravagant, costly and successful, and will become the first city to stage both a Summer and a Winter Olympics. The 2022 Winter Games will mark a third consecutive Olympics in an Asian nation, following the 2018 Games in Pyeonchang and the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
Beijing is not known as a snowy, wintry destination and its bid was noteworthy for the lack of usable mountains anywhere near the city. A Beijing Olympics will most likely require plenty of man-made snow at some of the venues, which might’ve played a role in the slogan chosen by the Almaty faction: “Keeping it Real.” Beijing’s slogan was the more quaint “Joyful Rendezvous upon Pure Ice and Snow,” and officials there have said hosting these Olympics will spark a strong interest in winter sports in the world’s most populous country.
While Beijing will be the epicenter of the 2022 Games, many of the skiing events will take place in the mountains around Zhangjiakou, a city of 4.6 million people, located more than 150 miles away. Construction is reportedly already underway on a high-speed train that will transport Olympic visitors from Beijing to the mountain venues in just 50 minutes.
Last July, the IOC Executive Committee announced three finalists for the 2022 Games: Beijing, Almaty and Oslo, Norway. Three months later, Oslo withdrew its bid at the government’s urging. A nation-wide poll there had found that 56 percent of Norway’s population didn’t support using public funds to stage the Olympics.
Oslo joined a long list of cities that dropped out of the process early, including Stockholm, Munich, Davos/St. Moritz in Switzerland and Krakow, Poland. As each withdrew from consideration, both Beijing and Almaty went from longshots to contenders to finalists.
Many National Olympic Committees have struggled in recent years to drum up support in their home nations. Just this week, Boston removed itself from consideration for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Hosting an Olympics has traditionally been considered an international coup, but escalating costs have scared many away from the process. After Russia spent $51 billion to stage the 2014 Games in Sochi, the IOC attempted to temper the costs by introducing last year its Agenda 2020 initiative, a series of reforms intended to limit the financial burden on the host city.
While news reports estimate Beijing spent more than $40 billion to stage the Summer Olympics just seven years ago, organizers say they’ve streamlined the budget for the 2022 Games. The Winter Games will carry a price tag of only $1.5 billion with an additional $1.5 billion dedicated to improving infrastructure. For its opening and closing ceremonies, Beijing will re-use the Bird’s Nest, the iconic stadium built for the 2008 Games, and will need to build six new venues.
Kazakhstan was trying to become both the first Central Asian country to host an Olympics, and the first majority-Muslim nation to host a Winter or Summer games. It also unsuccessfully bid on the 2014 Games.