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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The Kazakh city of Almaty and Beijing are making their final pitches to the International Olympic Committee ahead of the vote on the host city for the 2022 Winter Games.
Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Olympics, goes in as the favorite as it bids to become the first city to stage both summer and winter games. Almaty sees the Olympics as a way to help raise Kazakhstan's profile on the international stage.
Each city was set to give 45-minute final presentations Friday morning to the IOC, with another 15 minutes allotted for questions and answers. Almaty was due up first.
The Almaty delegation was led by Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov. Beijing's team was headed by Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong.
Two retired sports stars — former NBA player Yao Ming and two-time Grand Slam tennis champion Li Na — will appear on behalf of Beijing, while Sochi Olympic figure skating bronze medalist Denis Ten is on the Almaty team.
The presentations could help sway any undecided members ahead of the secret ballot later in the day among 86 expected eligible voters.
Dozens of pro-Beijing supporters gathered in a park just outside barriers set up to keep any potential protesters from the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, where the vote was to take place. Both bids have been criticized by watchdog groups over their human rights records, with Tibetan groups particularly harsh of China.
On Friday, supporters wearing white t-shirts with Beijing lettering handed out both Chinese and five-ring Olympic flags to passers-by.
The IOC was faced with two starkly different choices: Beijing offers the experience and some venues from the 2008 Olympics, but lacks natural snow or winter conditions, while lesser-known Almaty boasts a mountain setting with plenty of natural snow.
Beijing and Almaty were both considered longshots when the 2022 bid race opened two years ago. But they were the only two candidates left after four European cities — including Oslo and Stockholm — pulled out for political or financial reasons. Some were scared off the by the $51 billion price tag associated with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Almaty is bidding for a second time, but this is the first time it made it to the vote after being cut in the preliminary stage for the 2014 Games. The Kazakh city, whose slogan is "Keeping it Real," says it has 70 percent of facilities in place and a compact layout with all venues within a 30-kilometer (18-mile) radius.
Beijing would use several venues from the 2008 Summer Olympics, including the "Bird's Nest" stadium and "Water Cube" arena. Its mountain events would be held at venues in Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, 60 and 140 kilometers (40 and 90 miles) away from the city.
In contrast to Almaty, Beijing would rely heavily on artificial snow. Chinese officials insist they have plenty of water supplies and snow-making equipment to provide excellent conditions.
Beijing says the Olympics would help develop winter sports to a market of more than 300 million people in northern China.
Human rights groups have called on the IOC to ensure that the winning bid upholds new clauses in the host city contract on non-discrimination and protection of rights during the games. However, IOC President Thomas Bach on Thursday said the provisions could only be enforced "in the context of the Olympic Games."
"The IOC has to respect the laws of sovereign states," he said. "The IOC is not a world government."