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Tokyo Olympics cut spending; sports federations unhappy

May 8, 2019
FILE - This March 20, 2019, file photo shows the emblem of the Olympic torch of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games during a press conference in Tokyo. Tokyo organizers said Wednesday, May 8, 2019, they are trying to cut spending, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, which has been widely criticized for driving Olympic cities to build “white elephant” venues, often at the taxpayers expense. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

TOKYO (AP) — The Tokyo Olympics are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place.

Tokyo organizers are trying to cut spending, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, which has been widely criticized for pushing host cities to build “white elephant” venues — often at the taxpayer’s expense.

That’s the rock.

And here’s the hard place.

Some of Tokyo’s cuts are aimed at the international sports federations that put on the Olympic show. And they don’t like it with the games opening in 15 months.

“There is absolutely no question in the end that Tokyo will deliver a fantastic games,” Andy Hunt, the head of World Sailing, told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday. “But decisions are being taken on cost savings at a high level in the organizing committee, which has flowed down without realizing the implications.”

Hunt said some “basic stuff” for sailing was under threat: tents, storages areas, water provision for sailors and adequate shade. Even some food for athletes.

“I don’t have any guilt on my part that I’m asking for things that aren’t needed,” he said.

Hunt was among several federation leaders who openly criticized Tokyo organizers on Tuesday in Australia at an annual conference of Summer Games sports federations. He told Tokyo officials that “hotels seem overpriced” and said organizers did “not appear to have secured enough reasonably priced accommodations.”

Others criticized cuts to branding and “the look of the games,” and other items that some organizers have termed as merely “decorations.”

“We do not want to be as we were in Rio (de Janeiro) where the look was quite cheap,” said Larissa Kiss, an official with the International Judo Federation.

Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympics cut everywhere in the last few months and limped to the finish still needing a government bailout. Three years after the Olympics ended, Brazilian organizers still owe millions to creditors and sports venues are largely empty.

Tokyo has a different problem.

It appears flush with money. The $5.6 billion, privately funded operating budget — the budget to run the games themselves — is twice as large as Rio’s. Tokyo has sold a record $3 billion in local sponsorships, driven by the marketing of the giant ad agency Dentsu, Inc.

In addition, the national government, cities and prefectures are chipping in about $15 billion more to update infrastructure and get the country ready when the games open.

Masa Takaya, spokesman for the Tokyo Olympics, said operating costs have increased, partly by a decision to use existing venues. Earlier plans called for constructing new venues, most of which would have been built at government expense.

“Because Tokyo 2020 has been promoting the maximum use of existing facilities, naturally Tokyo 2020 is assuming the increased cost of the overlay and temporary facilities projects,” Takaya said in an interview with the AP.

He said the operating budget would not be increased and suggested some cuts were inevitable. Takaya said the cost to remodel existing venues and refit them was 95 billion yen (about $860 million).

The IOC has repeatedly said it is saving billions by using existing venues. But doing it has also shifted more costs to local organizers.

Takaya said complaints about hotel pricing and other services were being discussed.

“We are very keen to discuss how we can finalize this,” he said.

Overall Olympic spending in Tokyo has soared to three times more than the $7.3 billion it estimated when it won the bid in 2013. Costs just keep rising.

Here’s an example. Earlier this year, Tokyo officials announced the bill for the opening and closing ceremonies had risen by 40 percent. At the time, Tokyo chief executive Toshiro Muto said there was a “reserve fund” to cover such increases.

Hunt, the sailing official, said federations don’t want frills.

“I don’t think we over-ask,” Hunt said. “If there was not enough medical provision and focus on safety — if something went wrong — you can be absolutely certain where the responsibility would sit.”

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