2022 Winter Olympics: Beijing hot favourite Games despite complete lack of snow

It will either be Almaty in Kazakhstan or Beijing

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This morning will be the first time the new International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, gets to open a golden envelope and read out the name of a winning bid city. He probably hoped for better.

One of only two cities will be read out on stage in Kuala Lumpur, and declared host of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

It will either be Almaty, the financial capital of Kazakhstan – a place not overrun with democracy, human rights or even cash, at least since the global oil price tanked – or, alternatively, the bookmakers’ runaway favourite, Beijing.

Again, it is a place low on human rights but, rather more worryingly, low on mountains too and entirely free of snow.

That, Almaty’s organisers have continued to stress, is a major selling point for them in this limited field – the presence of legitimate snow-covered mountains, which one might imagine to be a prerequisite for a winter Games. Not so.

Munich, Stockholm, Krakow and Graubunden in Switzerland were all considering bids once upon a time. Lviv in Ukraine was forced to withdraw in circumstances understandably beyond its control. Oslo had been the favourite until all Norway’s political parties united against the idea. There is nothing like sport to bring people together.

In Beijing’s bid, the indoor elements of the Games will use the city’s 2008 infrastructure, with the Bird’s Nest stadium taking the bizarre honour of hosting two Olympic opening ceremonies – one summer, one winter. The mountains are 150 miles away in Zhangjiakou, the bobsled track 50 miles away in Xiaohaituo.

Human rights groups are outraged by the prospect of either country hosting the Games. Tibetan groups continue to lobby the IOC to reject Beijing’s bid. The IOC “should insist that the host country rigorously comply with the Olympic charter and basic human rights rules – or risk losing the right to host the Games”, according to Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch.

Beijing poses a particular headache for the IOC. The usual justification given for awarding mega events to nations of dubious moral virtue is that they can be a catalyst for social change. Sebastian Coe has said just this about the 2019 athletics World Championships that will take place in Qatar. But in seven years since China’s capital city hosted the world’s premier sporting event, little to no evidence of progress has emerged.

Both bids are heavily focused on value for money. The IOC no longer wants to be seen as an enforcer of waste, or worse, systemic corruption – particularly since the bill for Sochi 2014, paid by Russian taxpayers, rose from around $12bn (£7bn) to $50bn.

Both have made promises of total costs limited to $3bn, with the funds coming from private investors. But the public at large will nevertheless wonder at the need to host the Winter Olympics on artificial snow – and how on earth they will explain that decision to their grandkids.