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Beijing basks in Olympic glory, as Almaty pledges to continue winter sports drive

Beijing bid committee members today (Friday) reflected on creating Olympic history after being awarded hosting rights to the 2022 winter Games, as defeated Almaty pledged to maintain its efforts to turn the city into a major winter sports hub.

Beijing will become the first city to host both the summer and winter Olympics after landing the 2022 winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Beijing, which hosted the 2008 summer Olympics, emerged victorious against Almaty after an International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In a tight contest, Beijing secured 44 votes to Almaty’s 40, with one IOC member abstaining.

Beijing’s Mayor, Wang Anshun, hailed “a remarkable day for Beijing and for the Olympic Movement” following the decision. “This day will go down in history,” Wang said, according to the Reuters news agency. “The first time in Olympic history that a city will host both a summer and a winter Olympics. In 120 years this is unprecedented. We are overwhelmed.”

Wang pledged to make full use of the legacy from Beijing's 2008 summer Olympics “while building an even stronger legacy from 2022”. Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping sent his “warm congratulations”. He said: “You put a huge effort into bidding on the winter Olympics. I hope your persistent efforts, solid work, the strong support of all the nationalities of the people of the country, will make the 2022 winter Olympics a splendid, extraordinary and outstanding Olympic meet.”

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has also sent its congratulations to Beijing, stating the 2022 Paralympic winter Games will afford the opportunity to develop Paralympic sport in a crucial market. Sir Philip Craven, IPC president, said: “In 2008 Beijing raised the bar for all future summer Paralympic Games, delivering an event that acted as a catalyst for a more inclusive Chinese society and increased participation in summer sport.  I am confident the 2022 Paralympic winter Games can have a similar impact and China could emerge as a Paralympic superpower in winter sports, just as they are now in summer sports.

“Although China made their debut at the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympic winter Games they have yet to win a medal and participation in winter sport remains relatively low. Therefore I am excited that these Games are a real opportunity for China's 85 million people with an impairment to engage in winter sport and become more active, not just in sport but most importantly in society.”

However, not all the reaction has been positive. Ahead of the vote, Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week called on the IOC to fully respect human rights commitments in preparing for and hosting the 2022 Games, adding the decision over whether Almaty or Beijing would stage the event would provide an “extreme test” of the IOC’s new Agenda 2020 measures. Ahead of the vote, HRW sought to remind the IOC that both countries have “extremely poor” human rights records.

Speaking today, Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson said: “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. In choosing China to host another Games, the IOC has tripped on a major human rights hurdle.”

Almaty was widely considered the underdog heading into today’s vote, but the tight nature of the decision highlighted the merits of its bid after it also tabled an offer for the 2014 winter Olympics, but failed to make the candidate city shortlist. The impassioned presentation made by Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov impressed many and he hinted that Almaty would return to the bidding circle. “This is a very good opportunity and a very good experience to participate in some other bid in the future,” Massimov told Reuters.

Andrey Kryukov, the vice-chairman of Almaty's bid team, added: “By bidding for the winter Games we showed the world the amazing progress that Kazakhstan has made since its independence. This alone is a major victory for our country.”

Kazakhstan has already hosted the 2011 Asian winter Games and it is set to stage the winter Universiade multi-sport event in 2017. “Consistent with our long-term winter sports development plan, we will continue to develop our city into a winter sports hub for all of Central Asia,” Kryukov added. “Our region will continue to benefit from our city's abundance of winter sports venues and we remain committed to bringing major events to our city.”