The International Olympic Committee selected Beijing as the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, lured by the guarantee of financial and organisational reliability of China.
Beijing won the secret paper ballot of the IOC members 44-40, with one abstention, after the electronic voting system suffered a string of technical faults with the writing tablets halfway through the afternoon.
The Chinese capital was long-considered the favourite in the two horse race despite its poor human rights record and the lack of real snow, the only real drawbacks to the otherwise solid bid.
Beijing assured IOC members their city was the right choice because of its prior experience in hosting the Olympics in 2008 as well as offering the opportunity to market the Winter Games product to an estimated 300 million people in China as unparalleled benefits.
“They chose certainty in Beijing,” said IOC Vice President Craig Reedie. “But I don’t think anybody would have believed that the result would have been that close.”
“We know how the Chinese work. There is a familiarity. Kazakhstan is bigger than Europe and has 17 million people. I think there was a degree of uncertainty.”
Beijing will make use of existing venues from he 2008 Olympics, most notably the Bird’s Nest stadium and the Water Cube arena in the centre of the city, while the snow and sliding venues will be more than 60 kilometres away.
A planned high-speed rail line to Zhangjiakou will supposedly cut travel time to 50 minutes.
Almaty, which had hoped to bring the Winter Games to the region for the first time, could not quite manage to convince IOC voters that they were not the riskier option, despite promising real natural snow.
The Kazakh bid team made an emotional appeal to the IOC to send the message that smaller, developing nations could also host the large-scale event, while Prime Minister Karim Massimov made a last-minute plea for the IOC to be “brave”.
But for the IOC, which recently suffered the loss of Boston from the race for the 2024 Summer Olympics, the risks of giving their prime product to a country whose economy primarily depends on fluctuating oil prices, were too great.
With the other organising committees such as Rio 2016 grappling with polluted waterways, Pyeongchang 2018 only recently securing enough sponsors and Tokyo 2020 scrapping their stadium design completely, it was clear that the decision in Malaysia had already been made even before voting had begun.
“I think both bids were viable but Beijing has won,” former IOC President Jaques Rogge said. “It’s symbolic and it is a measure of confidence… it’s a good day for the Olympics.”
New York-based Human Rights Watch group, however, which was highly critical of both countries during the bid process, was far from impressed by the decision.
“The Olympic motto of ‘higher, faster, and stronger’ is a perfect description of the Chinese government’s assault on civil society: more peaceful activists detained in record time, subject to far harsher treatment,” HRW’s China director Sophie Richardson said in a statement.
“In choosing China to host another Games, the IOC has tripped on a major human rights hurdle.”