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  • Tokyo 2020 Venue Savings Could Reach Billions -- On the Record


    (ATR) By the time the series of venue changes are made for the Tokyo Olympics, the savings could reach $2 billion, says the head of the IOC Coordination Commission for Tokyo 2020.

    That relevation from John Coates, speaking to Around the Rings Editor Ed Hula February 28 in Rio de Janeiro, where Coates attended a meeting of the IOC Executive Board.

    Tokyo 2020 Co-Comm chairman John Coates addresses Japanese media (ATR)
    The appointment of Coates to head the Tokyo commission was the first high level appointment made by IOC President Thomas Bach, himself elected just three days after Tokyo won the vote of the IOC in September 2013.
    Coates is a lawyer by profession but has devoted much of his career to the Australian Olympic Committee.

    He’s been AOC president since 1990, a span of time that included bidding and preparation for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He was a vice president of the organizing committee.

    He has been an IOC member since 2001, a member of the executive board since 2009. Tokyo will be the third coordination commission in a row on which he has served after London 2012 and Rio 2016. In addition to his IOC duties, Coates is president of the Court for Arbitration of Sport.

    Coates is ranked second in the Around the Rings Golden 25 for 2015, the annual survey of the most influential figures in the Olympic Movement for the year ahead.

    Around the Rings: Is there anything you can take away from your experience in the 1990s as one of the leaders of the Sydney Olympics that you can apply to Tokyo 2020?

    John Coates: Everything. My philosophy is you start with the athletes, make sure you got the village and the venues right, get transportation working, and the rest follows. You fix that up, make sure it’s the very best, and you’ll have a successful Games. Some of us have different priorities.

    My experience in Sydney showed that if we focus on the athletes we’d get it right. We got it right. We started with the athletes and we ran a good Games.

    ATR: While most cities that win the Olympics make some changes to venues that are different from the bid, Tokyo may set an Olympic record for the number of venue changes. Is this something of a surprise?

    JC: Well, the Tokyo Evaluation Commission had signaled there should be a review of the venues. And a few of us certainly knew the direction that Olympic Agenda 2020 was taking towards the use of existing and sustainable venues. So this discussion didn’t just happen after the December IOC Session in Monaco. A lot of this work was taking place over the last six months.

    Tokyo 2020’s revised budgeting showed that construction costs had risen as a result of Fukushima. Well, Fukushima was known beforehand, so they realized they had to address costs, so we made it quite clear that we had a commonality of purpose to cut costs.

    Coates with Olympic volunteers (ATR)
    We wanted them to be using -- as much as possible -- existing venues.

    ATR: The bottom line is staggering -- that you could come up with up with a billion dollars in cost savings for construction venues. This is not a trifling number.

    JC: Well, it will be $2 billion when we finish.

    ATR: Would you agree that there’s never really been such a collection of venue changes? You certainly didn’t have that in Sydney when you won in 1993.

    JC: No. I certainly haven’t seen that, but that’s the flexibility that the IOC is prepared to adopt to help an organizing committee.

    ATR: Approval has been given to move three venues in Tokyo so far: basketball, equestrian and canoe slalom. What’s next?

    JC: We’ve confirmed 17 or 18 venues based on the bid. We’ve approved three new locations [at this IOC EB meeting]. That leaves eight to ten locations left and some of those will certainly be a change from what was in the bid book. These will give further rise to savings.

    We have a problem with sailing and triathlon because of Haneda airport flight paths. Already we had moved from the original sailing venue because building the breakwall in that part of the harbor would be expensive. But they found another venue, but it’s the one that’s problematic because of the flight paths and the safety.

    Coverage of sailing these days in London 2012 and post-America’s Cup in America is just sensational, so it’s a pity to let that go. We’ve been looking at this new venue. It is going to be a significant savings because you don’t need to build a new breakwall, but I don’t think you’ll be able to avoid the aircraft, so we’re looking at another venue for that now.

    Also with this venue, to get to the racing fields was going to take 14km for the sailors when they leave the marina. The IOC wanted that changed.

    Then the other major change is being discussed quite publicly with the international cycling federation. There was to be temporary venues constructed for the velodrome, for the mountain bike and for the BMX. The cost of those venues was approaching $200 million, and then they are gone after the Games.

    One idea for a BMX venue could save Tokyo 2020 a lot of money. (Getty Images)
    There’s been a suggestion which is being fully explored that we move to an existing velodrome at Izu, which is an hour and a half away. It would require the athletes living in a separate village, which would make in a hotel. It has a velodrome that’s currently 3,500 capacity that they can get up to 4,200 capacity, which is still a bit short of the ideal 5,000.

    But there is a BMX and a mountain bike track out there. That would be a savings of approaching $200 million. That’s with the international federation at the moment. We are hoping that they will understand the significant savings and they will understand all the sustainability.

    The other big one is triathlon. It’s in a flight path, but we want to keep that in the city, because it’s such a great thing to have in the city. Similarly with the road race, maybe just for a few times over the course of two weeks we can come to an agreement with the flight paths.

    That’s really the lot. We had asked that everything be approved by the April Executive Board meeting of the IOC, but that’s been put back to June. But nevertheless we are going to meet with them at the end of April and we will do our best to finalize that and then we will be done.

    ATR: What about the athlete experience in Tokyo?

    JC: At the time they bid, they said that 85 percent have of venues would be within eight kilometers of the village. With the changes that happened, the 85 percent has been reduced to 66 percent. That’s still deliverable. I think the athlete experience will be phenomenal. I reckon it will be pretty special, they’ll do it well.

    ATR: The Olympic Stadium is the new national stadium being built for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. You must be relieved that someone else is going to take care of building the stadium, operational well before the Games start?

    JC: Yes, the deadline is great!

    ATR: There is a bit of debate going on about the design of the stadium. Does the IOC have any interest in that?

    JC: No, as long as the specifications required are met, we regard that as a local decision.

    ATR: The other hot potato Tokyo is dealing with is the selection of new sports.

    The Sports Lab at Nanjing 2014 has served as an inspiration for sports hoping to reach the Olympic program. (ATR)
    JC: I get the impression that the pressure was on for baseball/softball. As this has unfolded, many sports have gotten very strong claims. Karate is a very big sport in their country, and there has been acknowledgement of squash. There is interest following the Nanjing [Youth Olympic Games] sports lab, with some of these new sports [skateboarding, roller sports, sport climbing, wushu].

    Tokyo 2020 have been very transparent in their responsibilities. They’ve appointed a committee that’s already met. We give them guidelines to follow, which we will supply at the end of April. They’ll work through all of this and come to us with a proposal by September.

    ATR: So, in September, we should have an idea of what new sports Tokyo would like to present?

    JC: What events they’re putting up. From there it will go to the program commission, the executive board and then the IOC session in 2016.

    ATR: With the IOC setting a limit of 10,500 athletes, how can Tokyo add events without exceeding that limit?

    JC: Any events proposed by the international federations have to come from the approximate 10,500 athletes.

    Any events that are proposed by international federations that are not yet recognized as Olympic sports will be allowed to exceed the limit of 10,500 athletes.

    ATR: Is there a possibility there could be more than one sport added?

    JC: Yes, it’s open. In every case, they have to come to us with a business case and show how it meets the criteria we give them. They also have to explain how they’ll bear the cost of this in terms of transportation, accommodations, etc.

    These aren’t demonstration sports. They’ll be receiving the same medals, so they have to show us how they can be accommodated in the village. In Tokyo’s case, the business case will be easy.

    There will be existing venues for whatever sports are selected by Tokyo. And with the plan for the Olympic Village, only the first 15 or 16 floors of the 60 story towers will be utilized. If more rooms are needed it’s easy to go another floor or to higher.

    ATR: Now, this would be just for the Tokyo Games. Presumably, moving ahead, there will be some sort of review process for host cities to examine if they want to do a new sport?

    JC: Well, there’s a review process after ever Games. That’s why we have already a flexible charter to delete events up to three years before every Games. But these sports, given an opportunity, will be seriously looked at by program commissions and inevitably cities that are going to bid in the future might support sports in advance, I suppose.

    ATR: Is this something you expect in the future – bid cities to say “we’d like to have this sport or that sport as part of our program”?

    JC: It could be an inevitability.

    Coates is impressed by Tokyo 2020 chairman Yoshiro Mori. (Getty Images)
    ATR: How is it working with Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori?

    JC: He is a very impressive man. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a group of government and organizers working this closely together. I go to meetings with Mori and the prime minister and the governor, and both of them say Mori was a great political leader. He is so respected in that society that he’s in a position to go to them and ask them of things. I’ve found him a very engaging person.

    ATR: Is he open to considering different ideas?

    JC: Yes.

    ATR: There’s no “my way or no way”?

    JC: No, he has not shown any of that. He’s got good experience in sport. He’s been involved in rugby for all his life. When we do press conferences, there is a respect for him when he’s up there with you. Japanese society gives a lot of credit to him.

    ATR: How often will you be traveling to Tokyo?

    JC: I did five trips last year. It seems like that will be a minimum for every year, with the project review, sponsor announcements, coordination commission, etc.

    ATR: Does it help to be almost in the same time zone in terms of communication with Tokyo?

    JC: There hasn’t been a lot of communication by phone because of the language. Some discussions with the sports director, but I’m willing to bet that will increase as time goes on.

    ATR: What’s your feeling about the direction of the Japanese economy right now? Any worries about how it will affect sponsorship sales or other financial aspects of the Games?

    JC: The slow-down and all of those things doesn’t seem to display themselves when it comes to looking for broadcast rights or sponsorships. You don’t get the impression that it’s an economy that’s got problems. Tokyo could raise $1.5 billion in sponsorships.

    The increase in GST has slowed consumption down, and they do have construction cost issues. Japan’s economy has continued despite years of deflation and other things. I think it’s a very resilient country. It’s the third biggest GDP in the world, and the Tokyo municipal government is the biggest city in the world in terms of GDP. This is different, too. An Olympic Games will affect their city differently than a smaller city like Sydney.

    Coates talks with IOC sports director Kit McConnell at the Rio De Janeiro EB meeting. (ATR)
    ATR: What do you think Tokyo will be like in four years?

    JC: What I’m looking forward to are the technological advancements. We can look forward to what could happen in terms of transportation, and Japan’s high level of technology. I think it will be something special.

    ATR: As far as the Japanese public goes, do you think they’ll be enthusiastic about the Games?

    JC: I think they’ve done some good planning in taking the Games to all of Japan, and different prefectures have already contacted my country about training sites, venues, and the torch relay. I don’t have any worry about that. This is a real opportunity for young Japanese.

    ATR: There’s talk that these Olympics could be meaningful for earthquake and tsunami relief in stricken areas. How do you balance that with a successful delivery of the Games?

    JC: In their vision, there were five little boxes and one was recovery, playing a role and giving those affected by disaster some real hope. I think those are some issues that fit comfortably with preparation of the Games.

    ATR: Is there anything to be worried about in Tokyo?

    JC: No, I’m very comfortable in what they’re doing. They listen and follow the advice we’re giving them. They certainly have wonderful resources they’re throwing at this. The Tokyo municipal government is very experienced in planning and management, and the quality of people involved is exceptional.

    Conducted by Ed Hula, February 28, 2015

    Transcriptions by Aaron Bauer and Andrew Murrell

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