Beijing: Beijing is "cold enough," to host the Winter Olympics in 2022, the International Olympic Committee`s (IOC) evaluation chief said on Saturday, while avoiding criticism of a recent crackdown on Chinese activists.
China`s capital is competing against Kazakhstan`s former capital Almaty to host the games, and if successful will be the first city to host both a Winter and Summer Olympics.
Beijing is widely seen as the frontrunner, but as in the run-up to the summer games in 2008, its bid has been overshadowed by concerns about human rights abuses and chronic air pollution.
2022 evaluation commission chairman Alexander Zhukov told reporters that Beijing is "capable of holding a successful winter games," at a press conference following a five-day inspection of Beijing`s facilities.
"Basically it is cold enough and everywhere there is sufficient water," he added in measured comments.
Beijing`s bid committee says it will hold skiing events in the nearby city of Zhangjiakou, which sees an average of just one meter of snowfall each year, leaving organisers reliant on artificial snow.
Beijing is often afflicted by heavy air-pollution including small particles which can deeply penetrate the lungs, causing health damage.
Zhukov said that "China recognises that air quality remains a problem," but that "temporary measures could significantly improve air quality during the games."
The IOC`s inspection tour came amid reports that police this week were detaining five feminists who planned to hand out leaflets against gender bias, and had raided the offices of an anti-discrimination group.
IOC Sports Director Christophe Dubi said he had "read about," the raid on Yirenping, a charity which works with AIDS patients and other marginalised groups in China.
The IOC lists anti-discrimination as a core value in its charter, but Dubi avoided specific criticism, saying "what we have to focus on as an evaluation commission is the games preparation, the games hosting."
US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement this week that "discrimination - on the basis of sex, gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexuality, among others - remains rampant throughout China."
"Host selections can no longer be made based on promises of flashy infrastructure or glitzy opening ceremonies, but now must require respect for fundamental human rights," said HRW`s China director Sophie Richardson.
"Will the IOC enforce its own standards?"