* Residents vote against hosting Games
* People ‘put off by price tag for Sochi Olympics’
* Officials start talks with IOC on pulling out
* Race now between Beijing, Almaty, Lviv and Oslo (Adds Slovak reaction, Polish sports ministry)
By Wojciech Zurawski
KRAKOW, Poland, May 26 (Reuters) - Authorities in the Polish city of Krakow have said they are pulling out of the race to host the 2022 Winter Olympics after a majority of the city’s residents voted against the bid in a referendum over the weekend.
The head of the Olympic Committee in neighbouring Slovakia, which was bidding to be co-host, said he believed Polish citizens were put off by the $50 billion spent by Russia to stage the Sochi Games this year.
With Krakow out of the race, Ukraine’s Lviv, China’s Beijing, Norway’s Oslo and Kazakhstan’s Almaty are the last remaining cities in contention for the hosting rights.
The proposed bid from Krakow was rejected by more than two thirds of those who voted in a referendum on Sunday, leaving bid officials with little option other than to throw in the towel.
“Today we are starting talks with the Olympics Committee on how we can withdraw from the Winter Olympics 2022 project. I think it is bad news, but this was the citizens’ will,” Krakow mayor Jacek Majchrowski told a news conference on Monday.
Many residents in Krakow, Poland’s second-biggest city, felt that some of the infrastructure needed for the Games - in particular an arena for curling, a sport barely played in Poland - would turn into white elephants afterwards.
Polish officials had promised the Games would have brought with it more than 20 billion zlotys ($6.6 billion) in infrastructure investments, but many residents believe that would happen with or without the Winter Olympics.
Poland’s sports ministry said in a statement that Krakow’s decision to drop out was “a missed opportunity not only for the region but for the whole country.”
Slovakia said it cannot afford to mount a bid on its own, but that the formal decision on pulling out from the Games would be taken on May 30 when all the parties involved will meet in Krakow.
“In my view, a similar opportunity will not occur for a long time. I doubt that anybody will try in the foreseeable future in this region,” Slovak Olympic Committee Chairman Frantisek Chmelar said in a statement on the committee’s website.
“In people’s minds, there probably was the negative role of the widely broadcast huge expenditures in Sochi, as well as the known difficulties accompanying the preparations for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio,” Chmelar said.
Now that the people have spoken, the picturesque medieval town joins a growing list of potential hosts to drop out of what has become a troubled race.
Stockholm withdrew just a few months after launching a bid last year, concerned over costs and the environmental impact of the world’s biggest winter sports event.
Germany’s Munich and Switzerland’s St Moritz did not even file bids after referendum voters in those countries rejected a candidacy, also scared off by the $50-billion price tag of the Sochi Games.
Of the remaining candidates, Lviv’s hopes have been severely dented by the political crisis in Ukraine, meaning next year’s election of the host city has been virtually whittled down to just three candidates even before a shortlist is drawn up in two months.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will select the winning city in July 2015 but with Oslo also facing strong public and political opposition, it could become a straight race between Beijing and Almaty.
The 2018 Winter Olympics are being held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
$1 = 3.0483 zlotys Additional reporting by Robert Muller in Prague and Adrian Krajewski in Warsaw; Writing by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Pritha Sarkar