INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA – For Tokyo, winning the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics was only the first step on a long, arduous road. Now the heavy work should begin, but when that will be is still being debated.
Despite questions arising regarding its recent decision to review and revise the venue plans for the games in 2020, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, outwardly at least, does not appear very concerned.
Revisions are being called for from the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee due to rising costs, eroding optimism over the vision of a compact games, which include the demolition of National Stadium to erect a gigantic, futuristic replacement, and other problems such as environmental conservation issues.
Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who chairs the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, said earlier this month that the review and revisions of the venue plans should be decided by November.
Bach, who was in Incheon attending the opening ceremony of the 17th Asian Games and the Olympic Council of Asia’s general assembly last week, suggested revisions can be part and parcel to the complex process of fine-tuning the initial project from the candidature stage.
“We are in close consultation with the organizing committee. It is our view that after the host city is elected, you think of how you can improve,” Bach said. “There was the candidature, now you can improve the project. I am sure there will be good solutions. The report I got from our Coordination Commission has been very positive.”
IOC Vice President John Coates, who heads the Coordination Commission, called the first visit to Japan’s capital to assess progress back in June a success.
The commission, which monitors and assists the organizing committees of the games, will make 10 full visits to the host city over the course of its seven-year life cycle.
Optimism at the ground level, however, appears to be waning, with the wrecking ball still awaiting the foreman’s whistle in a stadium that stands empty, its parts being auctioned off as “memorial goods” on a website.
The Japan Sports Council, which maintains National Stadium’s operations, announced last month that the demolition will indeed start Sept. 29 after the contract signing of a successful bid on Aug. 28 — two months later than scheduled.
A citizens’ group against the demolition held a protest earlier this month, calling for “renovations as the best method” and “strongly opposing demolition” of the iconic stadium, which stands as a legacy of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Representatives from the group, which argues the demolition is unnecessary since the stadium has been reinforced for earthquakes. They have also slammed as baseless the JSC reasoning that the building itself is deteriorating and needs to be torn down.
Nobuko Shimizu, one of its members, said she was told by IOC Director of Communications Mark Adams to consult with the JSC or the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee about her concerns, but she argues a public forum for citizens like herself to voice their views needs to be arranged by those in charge.
Key to Tokyo’s promises was that most of the competition venues be located within 8 km of the Olympic Village. But unexpected increases in the cost of labor and building materials were not factored into the budget. Neither was the April consumption tax hike from 5 to 8 percent.
City organizers had allotted construction costs of ¥150 billion for 10 new venues, according to Tokyo’s application, but a new estimate has more than doubled that figure.
As part of its proposed revisions, Tokyo is considering changing the venue for badminton on the waterfront along Tokyo Bay, halting construction of a new basketball venue, and moving the proposed site of the canoe and kayak slalom from a seaside park due to environmental concerns.
Several international sports federation heads, such as Badminton World Federation President Poul-Erik Hoyer Larsen, have raised alarm about plans to change the sites of sporting venues, stressing the importance of minimizing travel distance from the athletes’ village.
The site of the sailing event, with an initial price tag of ¥9.2 billion, could possibly be moved to a venue roughly 30 km east of Tokyo — also because of rising costs.
Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe has said that even at farther distances from the Olympic Village, which is to be built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, travel time should be the main factor. He thinks that if the Shuto Expressway is used, with designated Olympic lanes to reduce traffic, travel time will be around 30 minutes at the most.
“In such a complex project, you always have obstacles to overcome,” said Bach. “The important thing is you address them in close consultation with the stake holders. That means the organizing committee, the government and the IOC.”
As far as Tokyo sticking to its guns on the project, Bach showed flexibility — a catchword for corporate sponsors along with sustainability — that the IOC president has been touting since being elected last September in Buenos Aires.
“(Sticking to the plan) is important to ensure the overall quality of the games, but if in this framework you can make the games more sustainable, you can make it more cost-effective, the IOC will be very flexible,” he said.
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