<
>

Beijing bid faces questions ahead of 2022 IOC vote

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Two of China's most storied winter Olympic athletes faced some tough questions Tuesday about Beijing bid's for the 2022 Winter Games -- namely about air pollution and a lack of snow.

Gold-medalist pairs figure skaters Shen Zue and Zhao Hongbo came out of retirement to win gold at Vancouver in 2010, then retired again. The husband and wife are two of the Beijing bid's ambassadors trying to convince the International Olympic Committee that the Chinese city should be given hosting rights over Almaty, Kazakhstan. The vote will be held here Friday.

On the sidelines of the start of the IOC's executive board meetings Tuesday, the couple was asked about pollution in the Chinese capital and the lack of snow at the mountain venues of Yanqing and Zhangjiakou. Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Olympics, is trying to become the first city to host both a summer and winter games.

Shen said many Olympic ski competitions need artificial snow and "that is something that happens at many Winter Games."

"Often it is for the safety of the competitions and the athletes," Zhao added.

Beijing bid official Xu Jicheng, responding to persistent questions about the air quality for competing athletes, said pollution had improved since the 2008 Olympics and that will continue in the lead-up to 2022 if Beijing gets the games.

"We can promise blue skies and white clouds," Xu said at a packed news conference at a downtown hotel.

Other bid officials were asked about corruption surrounding the bid after last week's firing of a senior Chinese sports official.

Xiao Tian was removed as a vice minister of the General Administration of Sport of China. Xiao was placed under investigation for possible corruption in June.

Xiao was also a vice chairman of China's national Olympic committee, and last September he was elected as one of three vice-presidents of FIBA, basketball's world governing body.

On Tuesday, bid spokesman Wang Hui said "corruption is a common enemy."

"The Chinese government's position is one of zero tolerance that is also the wish of all Chinese people," Wang added. "These cases are irrelevant for the bid. They (individuals) attended bid committee meetings because we wanted broad support. But they assumed no responsibilities whatsoever."

Also Wednesday, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masssimov arrived in Kuala Lumpur to lead Almaty's delegation.

The executive board and later the full IOC membership will also receive status updates on preparations for next year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Rio has been beset by concerns over its polluted waterways, including the venues for the sailing and rowing events. Tokyo last week scrapped the original design of a new Olympic main stadium because of soaring costs which reached $2 billion. Construction was supposed to begin in October, but will now not begin until early next year.

As the 15 members of the IOC's executive board began meeting Tuesday, they discovered that Boston had dropped out of the bidding for the 2024 Olympics.

Beset by poor communication, low public support and an active opposition group, the U.S. Olympic Committee decided to cut ties with the East Coast city. With a Sept. 15 deadline for official submission of candidates, the USOC could turn to Los Angeles as a new bidder.

"We were all excited when (Boston) was announced, but it seems to have stumbled since," IOC vice president John Coates, a key player in the organization of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, told The Associated Press on the way into Tuesday's meeting. "But it's better to face up to these things early if you don't have full public support."