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The painful price of Tokyo

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - March 6, 2021 - 12:00am

The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo Organizing Committee are literally being forced to spare no expense to push through with the quadrennial spectacle. While effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are being mitigated by countries reopening and vaccine rollouts, there is still some hard-nosed pressure to scrap the Games. All of this has caused an eye-popping escalation of cost which will leave Japan and its reluctant citizenry holding the bag. Tokyo Olympic organizers estimate that they will spend more than double the original projection of $7.3 billion. Outside business groups forecast that the actual figure will be closer to $26 billion, making it the most expensive Games in history, beating London by a mile. A lot has changed since Tokyo won the bid in 2013.

International opposition. The results of a survey done by an international communications firm show that up to now, a number of countries oppose even the staging of the Olympics. Germany and the UK supposedly discourage the holding of the Games. Individual sports associations and athletes are also paranoid about getting infected, and are hesitant to go. Their potential absence will throw off revenue projections for tourism, accommodations, food and other related income for the three weeks that should have been a boon.

Miscalculations and increased material costs. The 43 new, refurbished and temporary venues and structures are the biggest over-budgeted items. When the original proposed cost for the centerpiece National Stadium hit $2 billion, they replaced the architect. The new budget was “only” $1.4 billion. The aquatics, volleyball and badminton centers combine for a little under  $1 billion. The gymnastics center used imported materials and came in at $200 million, or almost 250 percent its original cost. The closure of much of the world has also driven construction and material costs through the roof, pardon the pun.

One year opportunity cost. There have likewise been so many opportunity costs brought about by the pandemic. In one year, Tokyo could have staged several Olympic qualifiers which would have brought in much-needed revenue to the venues. By now, they would have sold off all the apartments in the athletes’ village and earned significant profits. The land on which the temporary venues stand could have been built on or sold at a higher price. The possibility of not having crowds will be an incalculable loss, as well.

Medical cost. It is estimated that Tokyo will deploy about 300 doctors and 400 nurses daily to attend to health protocols and medical needs. That will cost roughly $800 million, but simply cannot be dispensed with. Considering that it may take another year or two to inoculate the whole planet, there’s no telling how much of the audience and what percentage of the athletes, officials, volunteers, media and staff will be vulnerable. Another unforeseen new fact of life for the organizers.

All told, it is a supreme act of commitment and courage for Tokyo to go on hosting the Olympics, and we should recognize that. What would we have done? Any lesser people would have given up a year ago. Not the Japanese. The least we can do, as fellow sports lovers, is back them up by going, taking all the necessary precautions along the way.

TOKYO
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