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IOC's move to propose 4-party panel reflects deepening confusion over Tokyo Games

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach proposed during a meeting with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Oct. 18 to set up a four-party working group to review ballooning costs for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics -- an unusual move by the IOC that underscores the deepening confusion over the Tokyo Games due to be held in less than four years.

    The four-party working group will consist of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, the central Japanese and Tokyo metropolitan governments, as well as the IOC. This is an unusual case in which the IOC gets involved in decision making with respect to the Tokyo Games, but it also exposes the ongoing situation that is fraught with deepening confusion with less than four years remaining before the games are held.

    During a meeting with Tokyo Gov. Koike, Bach said, "I think it's in the interests of Japan, the IOC and Tokyo that we do not change the rules of the competition after the election because we all know that the Japanese people and people of Tokyo are reliable partners who are delivering on their commitment." Although he made the remarks with a relaxed look on his face, he made an in-depth proposal. A Japanese government source said, "It is a challenge to the 'Koike theater.' He couldn't stand watching talks between the metropolitan government and the organizing committee. It is an unusual for the IOC to get involved."

    Whenever the Olympic Games are held, the IOC assigns its coordination commission to oversee the organization of the sporting event. IOC Vice President John Coates heads the coordination commission for the Tokyo Games. The coordination commission works together with the organizing committee to decide on venues and seek the IOC's approval at an executive board meeting. If everything goes smoothly, there is no need for Bach to step in and there is no need to set up a separate working group, either. Coates, who had not been informed of the "3 trillion yen" budget for hosting the Tokyo Games estimated by a research team from the reform headquarters of the metropolitan government, did not hide his displeasure, saying, "That's certainly a figure that seems very large to us."

    Since Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in September 2013, a string of trouble has emerged such as the scrapping of plans to build a new national stadium and the official logo for the Games. Regardless, the IOC had consistently placed its confidence in the Tokyo Games organizing committee. The IOC must have breathed a sigh of relief when the Olympic flag was handed over to newly-elected Tokyo Gov. Koike during the closing ceremony of the Rio Games. But the fact that the research team of the reform headquarters of the metropolitan government proposed to review plans to construct venues for some Olympic events must have been beyond the IOC's expectations.

    In addition to barbs being traded between the organizing committee and the metropolitan government over a venue for the rowing/canoe sprint events among candidate sites -- either the Sea Forest Waterway (Tokyo Bay) or Naganuma Boat Park in the Miyagi Prefecture city of Tome -- a boat park in Chungju, central South Korea, which the IOC had proposed to use has reportedly emerged as an alternative venue.

    The IOC itself has been troubled by the trend of countries becoming reluctant to host the international sporting extravaganza. One of the reasons for that is the heavy financial burden on the host city. Another reason comes from a string of scandals including state-sponsored doping by Russian athletes. Italy's Olympic Committee has recently withdrawn its bid to stage the 2024 Games in Rome due to the high cost to put on the sporting event. The reason why IOC President Back played a key role in pushing for the Olympic reform program "Agenda 2020" is because financial burdens on host cities must be reduced in order for the Olympics to remain sustainable. If the Tokyo Games were a failure after cutting the cost of hosting the event by about 200 million yen under the program to review plans to build venues, the reputation of the Olympics would be further dented. The IOC holds such a sense of crisis.

    On Oct. 18, Japan's Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa held talks with IOC President Bach and said, "It is important for the government to come to grips with the whole picture." The central government has been in a wait-and-see mode because it believes that the cost of changing a venue should be shouldered by the metropolitan government. A central government source said, "It is not wrong for the metropolitan government to try to reduce costs. This is the last chance to review them. It should also exchange ideas with the IOC and hold thorough discussions."

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