Osaka Games bid may be a costly pipe dream in development

by Eric Johnston

Staff writerOSAKA — Kazuhito Konishi is not likely to be on the list of people Osaka Mayor Takafumi Isomura hopes to meet during his trip to Nagano this weekend to promote Osaka’s 2008 Olympics bid.

Konishi, a journalist-activist and acknowledged expert on the development of Osaka Bay, is chairman of the Osaka Needs No Olympics Citizens’ Union, a group of about 30 Kansai-based activists who will be in Nagano today and Sunday to protest Osaka’s bid.

Following the city’s selection last August by the Japan Olympic Committee as Japan’s candidate for the 2008 Games, Isomura was widely quoted in the local media as saying there is no local opposition to Osaka hosting the Olympics.

While the mayor later qualified his statement, saying he meant “no official opposition,” his remarks helped galvanize Konishi and others who are worried the city is embarking on a spending binge it cannot afford. “The mayor said everyone was in favor of the Olympics,” Konishi said. “In fact, there is opposition, and more people are starting to ask if an Osaka Olympics is such a good idea.”

Thus, while Isomura attempts to meet with International Olympic Committee officials to push Osaka as the host city for the 2008 Games, Konishi’s group will meet with those opposed to the Nagano Olympics and hold joint demonstrations in front of JR Nagano Station and throughout the city. The group will hand out fliers in Japanese and English explaining Osaka’s financial situation and arguing that the city cannot afford to host the Games.

Osaka began its Olympic quest in 1992. By the time the JOC formally selected the city last summer, an estimated 1.6 billion yen in local taxpayers’ money had gone, directly or indirectly, into Olympic promotion efforts.

City officials have indicated that between now and 2001, when the IOC selects the 2008 host, an additional 8 billion yen in promotional expenses could be necessary. By contrast, Nagano spent about 2 billion yen in total in its quest to win the Winter Games.

Last year, Osaka submitted a budget for an Olympics that included projected operating costs of about 170 billion yen. This figure was close to what Atlanta spent for the 1996 Olympics, but about 40 percent higher than the 120 billion yen spent by Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona, Spain, in 1992.

However, the largest expense will not be for the Games themselves but for construction of stadiums and arenas. Although Osaka convinced the JOC that existing facilities could be used, the most popular events would take place on Maishima Island in Osaka Bay, where the largest — and most expensive — facilities needed do not yet exist.

For example, a 100,000-seat stadium, which estimates indicate will cost between 80 billion yen and 100 billion yen, and a 20 billion yen Olympic pool with seating for 5,000 have yet to be constructed. Plans call for both to be completed by 2007.

It’s not just sports facilities that have to be built. New roads, bridges, train lines, subway stations, gymnasiums, dormitories and an international media center are also needed.

“If you add up the total cost of an Osaka Olympics, including operating costs for the Games themselves, construction of sports facilities, and infrastructure construction — including roads, bridges and subway extensions — the true cost to the city would exceed 1 trillion yen,” Konishi said.

Such cash outlays come at a time when the city already has more than 4 trillion yen in short and long-term municipal bonds outstanding, all of which must be repaid within the next five to 30 years. In fiscal 1995 and 1996, alone, an additional 1 trillion yen in bonds were issued.

“As things stand now, the total debt works out to 1.6 million yen per city resident,” Konishi said.

Isomura has said that even if Osaka does not get the Olympics, it will go ahead with building sports facilities, on the understanding the city will keep trying to host the Games eventually. The mayor says he hopes to turn Osaka into a “sports paradise” and make it an athletic center for both Japan and Asia.