LONDON (AP) - Three cities look certain to make the final cut in the race to host the 2022 Winter Olympics after the withdrawal of the Ukrainian bid from Lviv.
Lviv pulled out Monday because of the continuing political, security and economic crisis in Ukraine, becoming the third contender to drop out of the campaign for an Olympics that no one seems to want.
Lviv officials said they now plan on bidding for the 2026 Winter Games, a decision that followed talks between IOC President Thomas Bach, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Ukrainian Olympic Committee chief Sergei Bubka.
“We need to settle the main political and economic issues in Ukraine today,” Bubka, the pole vault great who sits on the IOC executive board, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “We all agreed that it’s best to postpone and focus on 2026. We felt it was the right decision for all parties.”
Lviv’s withdrawal came exactly a week before the International Olympic Committee executive board meets in Lausanne, Switzerland, to decide which cities go to the final stage.
The three remaining candidates are Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing, and Oslo.
With Lviv out, the board is likely to retain all three candidates and not reduce the field any further. The host city will be selected by the full IOC membership in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 31, 2015.
“I think the three can go through,” Bubka said. “Normally we do a short list. Maybe in this case, we don’t need it. We have three good candidates.”
The future of Oslo’s bid also remains uncertain. The Norwegian government has yet to back the project and won’t make a decision until the autumn. In addition, recent polls have shown that more than half the population opposes the games. It’s possible that only two cities could be left in contention by the end of the year.
Almaty, commercial capital of the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan in Central Asia, hosted the 2011 Asian Winter Games and would shape up as the favorite. Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Olympics, is bidding to become the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Games.
Beijing proposes holding Alpine events 120 miles (190 kilometers) away in the northern Chinese city of Zhangjiakou. And with Pyeongchang, South Korea, hosting the 2018 Winter Games and Tokyo the 2020 Olympics, the IOC would normally be reluctant to send the games to East Asia for a third straight time.
Lviv’s withdrawal follows the earlier pullouts of Stockholm and Krakow, Poland.
The Swedish capital dropped out after politicians declined to give financial support. The Polish city withdrew last month after 70 percent of residents rejected the bid in a referendum.
Even before the start of the official 2022 campaign, two potential serious contenders stayed away. St. Moritz-Davos and Munich canceled proposed bids after voters in Switzerland and Germany voted “no” in referendums.
Potential host cities, especially in Western Europe, are concerned about the financial costs of the games. Many have been scared off by the $51 billion price tag associated with February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. Russia spent much of the record sum on long-term infrastructure projects for the entire region.
Ukraine has been in turmoil for months, roiled by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and an insurgency by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. While Lviv is located in western Ukraine, the Olympic bid had been on hold while officials hoped the presidential election that brought Petro Poroshenko to power would bring stability.
“We thought that after the election many issues would be settled and negotiations started,” Bubka said. “We had positive expectations that the situation would change.”
Fighting has continued, however, between government forces and the separatists, with more than 400 people killed since April. A cease fire has been violated repeatedly.
“We concluded that it would be extremely difficult to pursue the 2022 bid under current circumstances but that a future bid would make sense for Ukraine and Ukrainian sport,” Bach said in a statement.
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