IOC exec praises public use of Tokyo Olympic venues while games are underway

Kyodo, Reuters

The 2020 Olympics will take on a radical new look, with its urban sports venues open for public use while the games are in progress, International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates said last week in Tokyo.

Earlier in June, the IOC decided to add 15 events to the Tokyo Olympics to bring the total to 339, including 18 from five new sports — baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.

Following an IOC Coordination Commission visit of the Aomi urban sports venue in Koto Ward on June 28, Coates, who chairs the commission, said fans will have an opportunity to actually use the venues themselves during the Olympics for sports such as skateboarding, sports climbing and BMX freestyle bicycle riding.

It will be the first time a competition venue will be open for public use during an Olympics.

“We’re very pleased with this,” Coates said following the inspection at Aomi, where skateboarding, sports climbing and Paralympics five-a-side soccer are to be held in 2020.

“As you know, we have introduced on your recommendation the new sports of sports climbing, skateboarding and surfing. And then recently, in cycling we’ve introduced BMX freestyle and with these sports what we want to do is bring them to the people, have them available to the people of Tokyo,” Coates said.

“There will be competitions and then, say in the afternoon, children can access and have a go for themselves. They’re all sports that, as you can see, engage with young people. In terms of our vision and Tokyo 2020’s vision of wanting to bring these sports to the people, I think this is a good location.”

Coates, who was in Japan for three days of meetings through last Friday, also said he was pleased with Tokyo’s overall preparations, especially trimming more than $2 billion in costs, and pledged that organizers will work for still more cuts.

Last September, a Tokyo Metropolitan Government panel warned that the Olympic price tag could balloon to ¥3 trillion. That would have been four times the estimate Tokyo made when it won the bidding in 2013, and prompted a worried IOC and local organizers to form a working group on reducing costs.

Figures released last month showed organizers had trimmed the budget estimate to ¥1.69 trillion, including contingencies, from ¥1.8 trillion in an initial budget unveiled in December.

“We’re very pleased, as you know … we’ve been able to save $2.2 billion on the revised construction budget,” Coates told a news conference Friday at the conclusion of his meetings with games organizers and metropolitan officials.

“But that’s not to say that we’re not continuing to work with our partners to identify further savings. Savings for taxpayers is very high among our priorities.”

Among areas that Coates said could be the targets of further cuts are temporary facilities that will be taken down immediately after the games are completed, as well as the planning of venues with international federations. Cost cuts could also potentially be made in the international media center.

“It’s important for the IOC, because we want to ensure that these are not only the best games, but these are games that can serve as a model as to prudent costing for future games and encourage future bids,” he said.

Four cities dropped out of the race for the 2024 Games due to monetary concerns, and the IOC is worried that soaring costs could deter future bidders.

The meetings included visits to the sites of several venues, including the Olympic Village and the new national stadium, where construction was delayed to switch designs in order to cut costs. Coates said the stadium will be ready by the November 2019 deadline.

He sidestepped questions about transportation between athletes’ housing and venues, which has been complicated by delays in moving the Tsukiji fish market, throwing construction of a key road and tunnel into doubt.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has vowed that the road will be completed, but Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, called for clarification by the time of the next IOC visit in December.

“Is it really possible to dig a tunnel? What is the completion date?” he asked.

It was also announced Friday that the Japanese teams’ first games in baseball and softball will be played in Fukushima, with the first-round format in baseball likely to settle on two groups of three.

While the World Baseball Softball Confederation has pushed — and still is pushing — for a round-robin format in baseball, it appears the organizers’ plan for a group competition will win out in the end.

“We decided that there will be no change, and there’s no proposal from the IOC of any change to what has been agreed,” Coates said. “We’ve confirmed the first baseball game and the first softball game involving Japan will be held in Fukushima. Then all the other games will be held in Yokohama, one venue.”