Kazakhstan Promises 'Real Winter Wonderland' In Bid To Host 2022 Games

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The International Olympic Committee will decide Friday whether to accept the bid by Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, to stage the 2022 Winter Games, or instead offer it to rival contender Beijing.

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Transcript

CORY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: This is Cory Flintoff in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Supporters of Almaty's Olympic bid are touting the legacy for the future too, promising that the games will put this nation on the world tourist map and jumpstart an industry based on the country's natural attractions. Some Americans may think of Kazakhstan only as the made up homeland of "Borat" in the 2006 movie comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen. In fact, Kazakhstan is a very real place - an oil-rich stretch of mountains and steppes in the heart of Central Asia. Its 17 million people are famous for their hospitality, one of the qualities that's featured in this slickly produced promotional video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Surrounded by snowy peaks that almost reach down to the city streets, Almaty provides a metropolitan haven amidst a real winter wonderland.

FLINTOFF: The slogan for the country's Olympic bid is, keeping it real, a reference to the fact that Almaty gets plenty of real snow in contrast to China's proposed winter venues which might have to rely on man-made white stuff for the Alpine events. Almaty's supporters say that all the Olympic events could be held at a compact area with no venue more than about 12 miles from the city center. And when the games are over, they say, the city will benefit from new housing, new recreational opportunities and new infrastructure.

Not so fast, say the proposal's detractors, such as Dosym Satpayev, head of the Kazakhstan Risk Assessment Group. Satpayev says the Olympic bid has support from the country's political elite, but a lot of ordinary people are worried about the cost of such an expensive project.

DOSYM SATPAYEV: Because a lot of ordinary people in Kazakhstan - they asked why we should organize for expensive Olympic Games because in Kazakhstan now we have a lot of local problems.

FLINTOFF: Those problems, he says, include Kazakhstan's deteriorating education and healthcare systems. Satpayev says many people see the Olympic Games as an opportunity for greedy public officials to skim more of the country's oil wealth. It's not just the costs, says Sergei Kuratov, a founder of the local environmental group Green Salvation.

SERGEI KURATOV: Another problem is that this is area where some very rare so-called endangered species, and the most famous animal is Snow Leopard.

FLINTOFF: Kuratov says Olympic development would encroach on a wildlife refuge and threaten the leopard's habitat. The winner of the bid - Almaty or Beijing - will be announced tomorrow. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Almaty, Kazakhstan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.