Residents fear Olympic bid will be mired in politics


OSAKA — Osaka residents are voicing hope that their city will be viewed favorably by a group of International Olympic Committee officials visiting this week.

They also say, however, that the visit will probably make little difference to Osaka’s bid to stage the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, as politics — rather than logistics — dictate that the Games will go to Beijing, Paris or Toronto.

And even those who support the bid have expressed fear that Osaka cannot afford to stage the Games and are concerned about its potential economic impact on the city.

Osaka’s first job, however, is to win the bid.

Local officials have repeatedly voiced confidence in the bid’s technical aspects, such as Osaka’s proliferation of sports facilities. But many ordinary Osaka residents doubt that this will be enough to win the day.

“It would be great if the IOC set politics aside this time, and judged the candidates solely on their technical merits. But, realistically, is that possible?” asked Shinobu Itoh, a 28-year-old office worker in the city’s Umeda district.

Yosaku Sugimoto, a 47-year-old shopkeeper from the Uehonmachi district, is also pessimistic. “I don’t think the Games should go to Beijing, but nobody outside Japan knows Osaka,” he said. “In the end, politics, knowledge of the IOC, and international recognition will decide who gets the Games.”

Sugimoto said he and many of his friends support the bid. But they also wonder what the financial implications for Osaka will be after the Games are over, should Osaka gain the IOC’s seal of approval.

“Many cities that have hosted the Olympics had huge deficits afterward. I think a lot of small and medium-size businesses in Osaka are worried that their corporate taxes are going to be raised to make up for any deficit that is incurred,” Sugimoto explained.

Beijing lost the 2000 Games to Sydney by only two votes, and many IOC members who voted for Beijing publicly encouraged China to bid again.

Accordingly, when Beijing announced in December 1998 that it would bid for the 2008 Games, most of those familiar with the IOC said the race was already over.

But events in China over the past few months — particularly the Chinese government’s crackdown on members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement — have given some IOC members pause.

Dick Pound, a senior IOC official who is a candidate to succeed current IOC president Juan Samaranch, said several weeks ago that the IOC had been ready to give the Games to China, but that the human rights situation in the country became an issue.

Since then, Paris and Toronto have reportedly gained ground on Beijing’s bid, and some residents in Osaka see China’s problems as helping their city’s bid.

“If human rights really is an issue, and if the IOC really does want to bring the Games to Asia, then Osaka is the logical choice because it is free of the kinds of human rights problems that exist in Beijing,” said Tetsuzo Koike, a 23-year-old student who lives in the Kyobashi district.

But the IOC has also repeatedly said that public support is crucial for a city that is bidding for the Games.

Beijing accordingly cites a city-sponsored survey that shows nearly 95 percent of its citizens support the 2008 bid.

In contrast, an Osaka city-sponsored survey shows that 76 percent of the population support the bid, with much of that support conditional on issues such as no new taxes being implemented to pay for the Games. Past media surveys have also indicated that only about 60 percent of Osaka people support the Games unconditionally.

“I think there is a lot of unease about the Games among people like me who are undecided,” said Yoko Nagashima, 44, an Umeda office worker.

“Are the Olympics really going to revive the city?” she asked. “I am not as confident as I would like to be.”

Under the microscope

OSAKA — The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation committee began their four-day visit to Osaka on Monday by discussing the city’s bid for the 2008 Games with Osaka government and business leaders, and by visiting Maishima island in Osaka Bay.

Many of the Games’ events would take place on the island should Osaka gain the IOC’s nod of approval.

The 17-member group will be looking at the technical aspects of Osaka’s bid, including its sports facilities, urban infrastructure, financing and environmental issues.

The day began with a welcome from Nobutaku Machimura, the minister of education, culture, sports and science and technology, who congratulated the IOC on a successful Games in Sydney and said Osaka’s advanced urban infrastructure and existing sports facilities make it a very strong candidate.

“We have a serious task ahead of us and we apologize in advance if our questions are pointed and direct,” delegation head Hein Verbruggen of the Netherlands said in response to Osaka and Japan Olympic Committee officials. The IOC is expected to question Osaka rigorously, particularly with regard to finances and the environment.

Many Osaka residents fear that hosting the Olympics will mean additional taxes, given the dire financial conditions in the city and prefecture.

Meanwhile, the presence of methane gas and dioxin on the island where the city plans to build the main stadium has sparked concern among environmental groups.

For its part, the IOC is concerned about financial, organizational, and environmental problems related to the 2004 Games in Athens, and has said it will closely evaluate the cities bidding for the 2008 Games on these areas.