IOC evaluators began a five-day inspection tour of Beijing's bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics on Tuesday, in a key test of the city's status as a front-runner in the competition for hosting rights.
Following meetings, the 19-member Evaluation Commission was visiting Beijing's indoor sites for hockey, skating and curling, along with the iconic Bird's Nest stadium used for the 2008 Summer Games. Later in the week, they'll check proposed skiing and sliding venues further outside the city.
Beijing is competing against Almaty, Kazakhstan, and is seeking to become the first city to host both the summer and winter games.
Chinese organizers say Beijing hosting the games would be a boon for winter sports globally by raising their profile in the world's most populous nation. Most of the proposed venues are left over from the 2008 Games, leading to significant cost savings in keeping with the IOC's Olympic Agenda 2020 goals for a more frugal, athlete-oriented games adopted last year.
In all, Beijing plans to spend $3.9 billion on infrastructure and operations, a small fraction of the $51 billion spent by Russia on the 2014 Sochi Games
The inspectors concluded a visit to Almaty last month, after which Kazakh organizers announced venue changes they say will make the games more efficient and save more than $500 million.
The International Olympic Committee will select the host city on July 31 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The Chinese government has pledged full support for the 2022 bid and will provide solid financial and legal guarantees, Vice Premier Liu Yandong told evaluators at a ceremony Tuesday morning.
Evaluation Commission Chairman Alexander Zhukov noted the bid's incorporation of some of the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms.
''You have maximized the use of existing world-class sports venues; you have taken advantage of your experience,'' Zhukov said in a speech at the ceremony.
In a reminder of Beijing's serious air pollution problems, the benchmark PM2.5 air quality reading topped 150 around midday Tuesday, more than six times what the World Health Organization considers safe.
Beijing organizers plan to tackle the problem by closing factories and coal-fired power plants, and junking heavily polluting vehicles. Holding the Olympics will put added momentum behind those efforts, they say.
Other concerns include a lack of natural snow and the roughly 200-kilometer (125-mile) distance between Beijing's indoor venues and those where Nordic skiing and other outdoor events will be held. Work has already begun on a high-speed rail line that will reduce travel time from Beijing's northern suburbs to just 50 minutes.
Pro-Tibetan and human rights groups also argue that China's record of abuses should rule Beijing out as candidate, citing the IOC's strengthened support for basic human rights embedded in the 2020 Agenda. Rights groups have also called for Kazakhstan's record to be scrutinized.
The Beijing 2022 Bid Committee says it's natural for groups to raise issues, but wants to separate politics from sports.
The Communist Party-backed newspaper Global Times was less diplomatic, accusing bid critics of stirring up trouble and ''ignoring Chinese reality.''
''These groups need to understand the majority Chinese view about human rights,'' the paper said in an editorial Tuesday. ''Chinese people are already tired of their constant manipulation and quibbling and the day can't be far off when the Western world gets sick of them too.''
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