LANE ONE: With just more than a year to go, how ready Tokyo 2020 will be is suddenly an issue

In remarks to the Australian Olympic Committee’s Annual General Assembly last Saturday, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach of Germany told the delegates:

“With the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on the horizon, the athletes will have so much to look forward to. As John can confirm, the preparations and the level of organisation of our Japanese friends are truly impressive. In fact, I cannot remember any Olympic city being so advanced at this stage before the Games.”

That was not the sentiment on the floor of the Sport Accord convention – also being held in Australia – on Tuesday, when multiple international federations complained about preparations in their sport.

Japan’s Kyodo News Service reported strong comments from World Sailing chief executive Andy Hunt, including “We’re extremely concerned with the service levels that are being proposed for athletes at venues.

“For example at Sailing, no hot food for athletes at the venue, lack of athlete shade and water provision, medical services not matching athlete needs. These matters need to be urgently addressed and re-thought, as they really are very basic athlete services.”

There was also detailed criticism of how the sports will be presented in terms of graphic design inside the venues. Larisa Kiss of the International Judo Federation noted that “We have events in Tokyo every year. The venue looks much better than what we are being proposed now. This would be a pity, to have a yearly IJF [event] look better than the Olympics.”

The daily SportAccord newsletter, hardly a critical voice, noted that “During the General Assembly, successive International Federations raised issues surrounding transport, quality of athlete accommodation and the look of the Olympic sites amid reports of cuts of up to 80 per cent to some Games-related budgets.”

There were concerns raised by other federations, notably tennis and triathlon, about their situations with issues such as accommodations, the test events program, travel within the Olympic areas for 2020 and the continuing concerns over heat.

Tokyo 2020’s sports director, Olympic hammer throw champion Koji Murofushi, replied to Hunt that “I know there is a budget constraint, but we understand that athletes are first.”

Hide Nakamura, the Tokyo 2020 “delivery officer” told the assembly, “We have counted on the [financial] assistance of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Because of some restrictions, we now cannot count on their money.

“In addition, some of our organizing committee think of [Games Look] just as a decoration. But we understand it is not just a decoration but a very important part of the Games. We will have discussions with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and IOC to discuss the look of the Games. We have always been an athlete-first Games. We ensure the service level for the athletes.”

This isn’t new. In April of 2018, at the SportAccord meeting in Bangkok (THA), federations for sports including baseball and softball and golf, in addition to judo, sailing and triathlon made many of the same complaints. The head of the IOC’s Coordination Commission, Australian John Coates, said last summer that most of the concerns had been addressed, but urged the organizing committee then to seek more help from the IFs.

“Obviously in sports in which Japan is not traditionally strong, and doesn’t have a lot of experience in, then more liaison work with international federations is necessary.

“The federations are not going to have to worry too much about karate or judo or baseball or softball – track and field, great experience there, swimming too – but you go to rowing, canoeing, some of those sports, and it is going to need greater reliance on the international federations, in terms of operational planning.”

So now the ancient issues of organizing the Games are back on the table, a situation most in the Olympic Movement had hoped to avoid after the strain of the Rio Games in 2016.

But the issue, as it so often is, is money.

The projected cost of the 2020 Games in the 2013 bid documents was $7.3 billion (829 billion yen). The latest estimate, announced last December, was ¥1.35 trillion, or about $12.3 billion at current exchange rates, most of which is coming from varying levels of the Japanese government.

And even with a record domestic sponsorship haul of more than $3 billion (U.S.), Tokyo 2020 finds itself short of funds.

Some of the federation whining is old news. According to a 2018 survey, Tokyo ranked as the fourth-most-expensive city for business travel in the world, so costly accommodations is part of the price of having Japan organize the Games. And complaints about accommodations rates have been heard since the ancient Games at Olympia.

But the issues about mitigating heat, services for athletes – especially those at outlying venues – and Look are part of a tug-of-war inside organizing committees that has gone on for decades. What can we afford? What can be cut back?

The Tokyo organizers have not yet placed tickets on sale, and it is possible that the revenues from admissions – like domestic sponsorships – could come in higher than budgeted and help with programs such as sport presentation, which has apparently already been on the chopping block.

Hunt made a more concerning point when he noted that, for the pre-Olympic test events scheduled to start this summer, it was going to be difficult to gauge the “operational readiness of the Organizing Committee for the both the test events and the Olympic Games, given that in many cases the test events are being delivered by third parties and not the Organizing Committee.

“We are concerned as to how you will gain any delivery expertise this year, when you have outsourced the delivery of the test events to third party agencies.”

Given the long and successful record of Japan as a host for mega-events, including the 1964 Olympic Games, two Winter Games, the 2002 FIFA World Cup shared with Korea and many others, the expectation was that the organization of the 2020 Games would not be an issue.

But now it is, entangled with the questions about finance and who will pay for what, and what will be left aside. It’s a discussion in which what happens inside the organizing committee is much more important than any meetings with those outside, including the International Federations.

Bach says that the preparations for the Tokyo Games are well advanced, but he might want to consider setting up a permanent liaison office inside the Tokyo 2020 headquarters so that the IOC knows what the discussions are – the ones that count – as they happen.

Rich Perelman