IOC inspectors arrive in Osaka


OSAKA — Members of the International Olympic Committee’s bid-city evaluation committee arrived in Osaka on Sunday evening to begin a four-day inspection tour of sports and other facilities.

The committee arrived at Kansai International Airport in the late afternoon and was greeted by Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, who stopped there on his way back from Okinawa.

From there, they were taken to a hotel in central Osaka for welcoming reception.

But the mood among Osaka officials was anxious, following reports that the 17-member committee had given high marks to Beijing’s preparations. Officials were also disappointed that Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori would not be meeting with the IOC members during their stay. Mori said he would remain in Tokyo because of budget deliberations in the Lower House.

“Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin attended Beijing’s presentation, and emphasized that China, not just Beijing, really wants the 2008 Games. How does it look if the Prime Minister of Japan fails to show up and support our bid?” asked one Osaka Olympic official, speaking anonymously.

The issue of public support is likely to be crucial as well. Beijing claims that nearly 96 percent of its population supports the bid. Osaka, by contrast, says 76 percent of the public supports the city’s bid, and many of those only on conditions such as no new taxes being attached.

IOC officials said Saturday they were most impressed in Beijing by the enthusiasm ordinary citizens had for the bid — an enthusiasm that many Osakans who support the bid admit their city lacks.

“There is no doubt that ordinary Osakans are not as enthusiastic about the bid as Beijing’s citizens are, and we need to change this,” said Kyoko Taniguchi, a 26-year-old office worker who said she wants to serve in the Games as a volunteer.

During their four-day stay, the committee, which has no voting rights, will tour facilities in and around Osaka, including the islands of Maishima and Yumeshima in Osaka bay, where the construction of an 80,000 seat stadium is planned to accommodate the opening and closing ceremonies.