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Despite Rising Costs, China Is Gung-Ho To Host 2022 Winter Olympics


Tomorrow, we'll find out if the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing or in Almaty in Kazakhstan. The number of cities willing to play host has dwindled because the price of holding the games has skyrocketed. Voters in Norway, Sweden, Ukraine and Poland have balked at the cost of hosting in 2022, leaving just two authoritarian regimes chasing the prestige event. In a moment, we'll hear from our correspondent in Almaty about the Kazakh bid for the games. But first, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports that if Beijing wins the bid, a number of events won't be held in the city.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: There's nothing really skiable in Beijing itself, so most of the downhill events will actually be held near the city of Xiaohaituo some 120 miles to the northwest.

So I'm walking down the main street of the village that is supposed to be a transport hub after they construct a high-speed railroad from Beijing. Right now, there's not much to look at, though. It's just a main street with simple low-slung farmhouses on either side. Most people just sit around by the side of the road during the day when they're not in the fields farming their cabbages.

Or tending to the ski slopes, shops and Swiss-style chalets that have sprung up here in recent years. The planned high-speed train would cut the three-hour drive from Beijing down to a 45-minute journey. Local government employee Wei Yun (ph) says farmers here can barely control their enthusiasm for the Olympic bid.

WEI YUN: (Through interpreter) Working on the ski resorts has become an important source of income for local villagers, even more than farming. That's why everyone is in high spirits awaiting news of our successful bid.

KUHN: A short cable car ride brings us to the top of one of the many ski slopes that dot this emerging ski mecca for Beijingers. We meet Lee Yu (ph), a sports equipment dealer riding a mountain bike.

LEE YU: (Speaking Mandarin).

KUHN: "The environment here is no different from what we see on big mountains in the U.S. and Europe," he says. "There's no pollution up here." In the village below, a resident cranks water out of an old stone well. Chinese officials have dismissed environmental groups' concerns that the area is too dry and making snow for the ski slopes will strain the area's limited water resources. Beijing has pledged that the games will meet Olympic human rights standards despite international criticism of an ongoing crackdown on human rights lawyers and NGOs.

Jeff Ruffolo has advised Beijing on both the current Olympics bid and the 2008 summer games. He notes that the $51 billion price tag of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, scared away other bidders, including Poland, Ukraine, Norway and Sweden.

JEFF RUFFOLO: And the IOC pretty much begged the Chinese, please don't go away; we need your bid to make this viable. So now you're left with a Winter Olympic concept that nobody wants.

KUHN: Nobody, he adds, except authoritarian governments that will spend vast amounts of money to burnish their reputations. Ruffolo's advice to Beijing is not to tout all the gleaming infrastructure it can create.

RUFFOLO: Not, well, we're going to build this; we're going to build that. Well, we know the Chinese can build everything 'cause everybody in the world buys something from China. We know they can build the Tower of Babel to heaven. That's not what it's about.

KUHN: It's about the Olympic spirit, Ruffolo says, and about the legacy the games will leave to China's future generations. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.