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2020 Tokyo Olympics face vast cost overruns

A new estimate commissioned by the freshly elected first-ever woman governor of Tokyo says the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could cost four times the original estimate. Officials have been sent back to the drawing board.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was in Japan this week. The next Summer Olympics are due to be held in Tokyo (pictured above) from July 24 to August 9, 2020. As always, there are a great many details to sort out beforehand. One particularly noteworthy detail: The hugely bloated price tag now projected for the Tokyo Olympics.

Accompanied by attentive Japanese helpers, Bach hurried from meeting to meeting in the vast metropolis - home to nearly 38 million people in the greater metropolitan area. Among others, he met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and with Yuriko Koike, the energetic governor of Tokyo, to talk about funding.

Experts had recently calculated that the Tokyo Summer Games could cost about 26 billion euros ($28 billion), or 3 trillion yen. The estimate came as something of a shock to the Japanese public. Koiko, recently elected the first female governor of Tokyo, had commissioned the estimate, in line with her election campaign promise that she would keep the cost of the Olympics strictly under control. That promise may prove difficult to keep. Costs have been exploding lately.

Thomas Bach (picture alliance/dpa/Kyodo)

IOC President Thomas Bach (center) speaks at an IOC meeting in Rio de Janeiro on August 2, 2016. IOC chiefs spend their lives hurrying from meeting to meeting

IOC chief plays down cost rises

"It's very clear that nobody, nobody has an interest in soaring costs," Thomas Bach said during his Tokyo visit, in an effort to appease public sentiment. He promised to work closely with Japanese organizers to cap costs.

"For its part, the IOC has the strongest interest to show that the Olympic Games can be organized in a feasible and sustainable way. This is why we will bring all our expertise and determination to this working group," Bach said, referring to a joint cost-control committee composed of IOC and Japanese officials.

 

World Forum on Sport and Culture

Bach hadn't actually come to Tokyo to talk about cost overruns. He was there to give a talk at the World Forum on Sport and Culture, an event organized by the Japanese government to build support for the Olympics. Artists and athletes had been invited to present their ideas. Some of the discussions were held jointly with the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF). WEF's founder, Klaus Schwab, also gave a talk, in which he spoke of the responsibilities of athletes and cultural creatives. 

Yuriko Koike was elected Governor of Tokyo on July 31, 2016 (picture-alliance/NurPhoto/R. Atrero de Guzman)

Yuriko Koike was elected Governor of Tokyo on July 31, 2016. She had previously been defense minister as well as environment minister in the national government

Role models

"They're role models for young people," Schwab intoned. IOC president Bach nodded his agreement, pleased that Schwab had brought members of his WEF "Young Global Leaders" network along to Tokyo. The network includes some 600 young international leaders, including, for example, Norway's Crown Prince Haakon and Germany's deputy finance minister, Jens Spahn. They chatted about the role of sports in society and its economic impact, among a broad range of topics.

Cities of the future

"How should the city of the future be designed?" was the topic of one discussion moderated by DW's Amrita Cheema. Merely investing in roadways or railways wasn't enough, the discussants agreed. Cities must also be places where intra- and intergenerational contacts are fostered, and must have enough space for sports and physical activities.

"Modern technology can improve the quality of city life," said Kohei Nishiyama, founder of Elephant Design, a Japanese design consultancy. However, technology was not an end in itself, he added - Japan's 2020 Olympics would prove that point.

Osaka University robot 'baby' Affetto (DW/E. Felden)

Japan appears to have a thing for humanoid robots - like this Osaka University project called 'Affetto,' meant to provoke affectionate responses in humans through its baby-like appearance. At the upcoming Olympics, Japan intends to showcase its leadership in robot technology. Visitors in Tokyo's Odaiba district will be surrounded by state-of-the-art robot assistants.

Low-cost visions?

At present, Tokyo has a shortage of Olympic money, not a shortage of Olympic visions. Initially, the costs of preparing for and holding the games had been estimated at 6 billion euros. The new estimate is over four times that amount. Accordingly, a working group composed of officials from the Japanese government, the IOC, and the Tokyo Olympic Committee has now been tasked with finding lower-cost solutions. That may prove difficult, as IOC boss Bach has rejected proposals to make changes to Tokyo 2020 venues

The 2020 Olympics in the Japanese megalopolis are meant to show the people of Japan and the world a voyage of exploration into the future: "Discover Tomorrow" is the motto of the 2020 Games. A suitable unofficial motto for the working group might be something like, "Affordably Discover Tomorrow."

 

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