KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The bidding teams from Beijing and Almaty made their final pitches to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Friday, pushing their cases to be chosen as the host for the 2022 winter Olympics.
Beijing, bidding to become the first city to host both the summer and winter Games, presented itself as the safe choice, emphasizing that they have already proven themselves as an Olympic host and have the experience and financial muscle to do it again.
The bid team from Kazakhstan urged the IOC to resist the temptation to go back to China and instead send a positive message to smaller developing countries that they too could host the world's greatest sporting events.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was not present at the Malaysian convention center where the presentations took place, but sent a video message that was broadcast to the 85 IOC members who will vote in a secret ballot to decide the winner, expected to be announced around 10 GMT.
"Let me assure you, if you choose Beijing the Chinese people will stage excellent and extraordinary Games," he said.
Beijing is the clear favorite to win the vote as the IOC grapples with the effects of a global economic crisis and the shifting power-base of world sport.
The four European candidates who originally entered the 2022 election all dropped out of the race, citing concerns about the escalating costs of staging the Olympics and dwindling support at home, prompting the IOC to introduce a raft of reforms to cut costs and attract more bidders in the future.
With only Beijing and Almaty in the running, the IOC is left with a tricky choice.
The Chinese capital is the clear favorite because of its proven track record but Almaty is a better fit with the IOC's new reforms, which advocate less expensive and more sustainable bids.
"Almaty is not a risky choice for 2022," Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim Massimov told the IOC.
"We are a golden opportunity to show smaller, advancing nations can host the Games, to give athletes the true winter experience they deserve."
Almaty, the second-largest former Soviet oil producer after Russia, also provided assurances that they had the money to pay for the Games and drew heavily on their campaign slogan "keeping it real", a thinly-veiled poke at Beijing's lack of snow.
But China's Sports Minister Liu Peng played down any concerns about lack of snow, saying ski resorts have been operating in the proposed mountain venues for two decades.
"Beijing 2022 will build on our existing snow-making capabilities to supplement snowfall... with minimal environmental impact," he said. "We have a strong experience in organizing winter Games."
Some 85 members of the 100-strong IOC will be voting at the 128th session in the Malaysian capital with a straight majority sufficient to decide the outcome.
The IOC President Thomas Bach has elected not to vote, while a handful of other members, including FIFA president Sepp Blatter, were not present.
Editing by Ossian Shine