February 13, 2015

An International Olympic Committee panel began a five-day visit to Almaty on Friday to assess the Kazakh city's bid for the 2022 Winter Games.

Almaty, the commercial capital of the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, is competing against Beijing in a race that was reduced to two candidates after the withdrawal of four bidders because of financial and political concerns.

The 14-member IOC evaluation commission, chaired by Russian Alexander Zhukov, will visit the proposed sports venues and meet with bid and government leaders to discuss their plans.

''The impact of Almaty 2022's Olympic legacy will be far reaching, not only in helping us meet the growing demand for winter sport infrastructure in the region, but also in serving as a catalyst for economic and societal progress,'' bid vice chairman Andrey Kryukov said.

The IOC panel will visit Beijing from March 24-28.

The full IOC will select the host city on July 31 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Almaty bid for the 2014 Olympics but failed to make the list of finalists. Kazakhstan hosted the 2011 Asian Games, and will stage the Winter University Games in 2017.

Almaty and Beijing submitted their detailed bid files to the IOC last month. Both pledged cost-conscious and sustainable games in line with the ''Olympic Agenda 2020'' reforms approved by the IOC in December.

Facing the political and economic might of China, Almaty has sought to set itself apart by portraying its bid as compact, and offering true winter conditions and plenty of real - not man-made - snow.

Almaty claims to have the most compact bid in three decades, with all venues within a 30-kilometer (18-mile) radius of the Olympic Village.

Almaty has a projected organizing committee budget of $1.859 billion and infrastructure budget of $1.636 billion.

Among its venues is the Medeo speedskating oval, which is at 1,720 meters (5,600 feet) above sea level, and produced more than 120 world records during the Soviet era.

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