$30 Billion Olympics

Controversies over the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games continue to boil over in the Tokyo metropolitan government. Estimates for the cost of hosting the Games have increased to 3 trillion yen ($30 billion), or more than four times the amount proposed when the Japanese capital put in its winning bid.  

Photo: AP Photo / Shizuo Kambayashi
Cars drive past the site of the new national stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies and track and field of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in Tokyo  Oct. 2. 

A task force of the metropolitan government has proposed scrapping three venues that were to be newly built for the games: swimming, volleyball, and rowing and canoeing. Since there are no facilities in Tokyo Bay for boating, the rowing and canoeing events would be moved to Miyagi Prefecture, about 250 miles north of the city, where there is a fully functional boat park.

Swimming competitions would be at the existing Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center, which would need to be refurbished. As for volleyball, another facility has been chosen but it, too, would need to be renovated. Nevertheless, the costs of improvement would save the city hundreds of millions of yen compared to building new facilities.

A member of the task force told media that when the original plans were made, no consideration was given as to how these three new venues would be used after the Olympics. Predictably, the local organizing committee has protested, saying that the new venues were part of the package accepted by the International Olympic Committee. The organizing committee’s head, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, said during a news conference, “It might be extremely hard to overturn plans that have already been approved” by the IOC. Other members of the organizing committee complained that the task force’s proposals came suddenly. The central government also threw in its 2 cents.

A representative of the ruling party said that scrapping the existing plans would create problems for the organizations that represent each sport. A representative of an international canoeing association has already protested the proposed move to Miyagi. Some reporters are saying that the task force may have been emboldened by the recent election of Yuriko Koike as governor of Tokyo. Koike has made it her mission to reign in the costs of the Olympics, which have ballooned mainly due to skyrocketing construction costs related to a shortage of materials and labor.

Construction of the new national stadium, whose original design was canceled last year, hasn’t even started yet. The IOC has, indeed, expressed concern over the turn of events, though it should be noted that in the original bid 85 percent of the venues were to be located within a distance of 8 kilometers from the main stadium. That plan was abandoned almost as soon as Tokyo won the right to host the Games. Moreover, the IOC charter mandates that existing facilities should be used instead of building new ones, though the complaint they have about the cancellation of venues is that, in at least two cases, the existing venues are deemed not large enough.