Olympics: Beijing mayor promises frugal, smog-free Winter Games

BEIJING (REUTERS) - If Beijing wins the right to hold the 2022 Winter Olympics they will be both frugal and free from the city's notorious smog, the city's mayor was quoted as saying in a state-run newspaper on Tuesday.

"Holding the Games in a frugal way is not a slogan, it's a reality," Mayor Wang Anshun said, according to the official China Daily. "We will make full use of our current sports facilities and strictly control construction costs."

Beijing, along with the nearby city of Zhangjiakou jointly bidding for the Games, is playing host this week to an evaluation team from the International Olympic Committee.

The Chinese capital, which hosted the 2008 summer Olympics to broad acclaim, is planning to make use of existing facilities to lessen the costs.

Mr Wang said that new facilities would be a boost for the economy, and be used after the Games are over.

With South Korea's Pyeongchang hosting the 2018 Winter Games and Tokyo the 2020 Summer Games, the odds of Asia getting a third successive Olympics had initially seemed remote.

But only Beijing and Kazakhstan's Almaty have been left in the 2022 race though neither city is a winter sports powerhouse.

Despite strong political backing and a proven track record, Beijing faces serious doubts over its poor air.

While Beijing made strenuous efforts to clean up its air in time for the 2008 summer Olympics, the city still suffers from terrible smog, so bad on occasion that it forces the airport to shut and envelops everything with a thick, choking haze.

"We are prepared to reduce the use of coal, alleviate pollution caused by traffic, extend the use of new energy vehicles and ask more polluting plants to move out of Beijing," Mr Wang said. "We promise the air quality will meet World Health Organisation standards by the start of the winter of 2022."

Average levels of hazardous airborne particles known as PM2.5 stood at 85.9 micrograms per cubic metres in 2014, down 4 per cent compared with the previous year, but still far higher than the national air quality standard of 35 micrograms.

Beijing plans to bring readings down to 60 by 2017, the municipal environmental bureau said earlier this year.

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