The race to host the 2014 winter Olympics is predicted to be as tight as the 2005 battle for the 2012 summer games, when London managed to yank out the winning bid at the last moment of voting from Parisian hands.
This time around, the three competitors are South Korea's Pyongchang, Austria's Salzburg, and Russia's Black sea resort town of Sochi. Despite various concerns about Sochi having lower chances to host the Olympics, the New York Times reports that an index compiled by Olympics specialist website Around The Rings concludes that all three contenders are level with 83 points, less than a week before the voting in Guatemala on July 4th.
Salzburg had led through the two-year campaign but concerns raised in an IOC evaluation report had allowed the two others to catch up just in time, ATR said.
ATR said its index was based on multiple visits by its correspondents to the cities over the past two years and coverage of their presentations around the globe.
"Scrutiny of bid documents and interviews with bid officials, IOC members and other sports leaders also influenced the rankings," it said.
In the previous ATR power index, released in April, Salzburg led on 82 points, followed by Pyeongchang on 77 and Sochi on 75.
Although Sochi's funding is very well-outlined and backed by the Russian government's multi-billion Federal Target Program, it lags behind the competitors in the number of Olympic complexes built. Out of 11, it so far has zero. Compare that with a seven out of eleven for Salzburg. But then again Austria's sporting complexes will be older than those of Sochi when built. What remains strong is the public support for the Olympic games in Russia, for which Vladimir Putin has become the leading promoter in the international arena.
Sochi has positioned itself as a unique geographical destination. While the higher reaches of its mountains are covered with snow virtually all year, in the summer it is the top Russian beach resort. In fact it is the warmest Russian major city. The fact that the likes of Roman Abroamovich, Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea FC, have been making big investments in the area is also a big confidence factor.
Yet as the Guardian reports, South Korea may be extremely attractive especially after the Beijing 2008 games, and will serve a further boost to the expansion of the Olympics movement into Asia and with it corporate sponsors willing to tap the Asian market. The IOC members reviewing Sochi have given it marginally lower reviews than Salzburg and Pyongchang earlier on as well.
However, the IOC is a strange organizations as are many, needless to say, and so the voting will probably yield a big surprise. One would hope the surprise will be in store for Sochi.