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Tokyo governor's wishes not reflected in 4-party talks on Olympic venue changes

An artist's sketch of the Ariake Arena, which organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are considering building to host the volleyball competition. (Image courtesy of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government)

A Nov. 29 meeting held by Olympic organizers to review event venues for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics resulted in the scrapping of Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's vision to move rowing and canoe sprint to a site in Miyagi Prefecture as a symbol of the Tohoku region's recovery from the 2011 disasters, as well as a postponement of a final decision on a venue for volleyball.

The talks were held among officials from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Japanese government. Having been forced to concede her pet idea of holding events at Naganuma boat facility in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture, Koike has yet to give up the possibility of moving volleyball to the existing Yokohama Arena facility instead of holding it at a new facility in Tokyo's Ariake district.

"It's easy to gather reasons why we can't hold events somewhere, but I want to continue pursuing reasons why we can," Koike told reporters after the meeting.

Koike was elected Tokyo governor under a banner of "bringing Tokyoites first." Once she assumed her position, she proposed a review of three events -- rowing, canoe sprint and volleyball -- whose expected venue costs had ballooned, and which were to be built and maintained by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. But her wishes were not reflected in the conclusions reached at the Nov. 29 meeting.

In addition to "Tokyoites First," Koike's run for governor was also carried out under the slogan of "Athletes First," with the upcoming games in mind. Multiple sports associations expressed their objections to Koike's proposal to move their events to Miyagi Prefecture, citing the fact that the Naganuma facility is at least 300 kilometers from Tokyo. Koike's proposal to move volleyball to Yokohama Arena in Kanagawa Prefecture was likewise met with protest, with athletic associations asking that an arena meeting Olympic standards be built in Tokyo.

It had emerged that there would be a loss of approximately 10 billion yen if ongoing construction of the Sea Forest Waterway in the Tokyo Bay Area planned for rowing and canoe sprint were to be cancelled, so the Naganuma option had already lost its edge before the latest meeting of the four parties was held.

With the prospects of Koike fulfilling her campaign pledges unclear, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's investigative committee took IOC officials to see Yokohama Arena shortly before the meeting, causing a furor among Tokyo Olympic organizing committee officials. The interests of the Tokyo government and the organizing committee clashed, forcing Gov. Koike to present the four-party meeting with the two options of a new arena in Ariake, a district in Tokyo's Koto Ward, and the existing arena in Yokohama and seek input from the IOC.

Meanwhile, the review succeeded in bringing down the construction and maintenance costs of Sea Forest Waterway from 49.1 billion yen to 29.8 billion yen, as well as the costs of the Olympic Aquatics Center in Tokyo's Koto Ward from 61.5 billion yen to somewhere between 47 billion yen and 51.2 billion yen.

"The way in which plans were overturned may have been a bit rough, but if it weren't for Gov. Koike, these cost cuts would not have been possible," a senior Tokyo government official said.

During the debate over whether to hold volleyball games in Ariake or Yokohama, IOC Vice-President John Coates remarked that the important thing was to continue working, essentially stretching out a helping hand to Koike, despite Tokyo Olympic organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto saying, "We'd like a decision to be made today," and IOC executive director of the Olympic Games, Christophe Dubi, suggesting that the Yokohama option was an ambitious undertaking that would require massive work. A former rower, Coates strongly opposed Koike's proposal to move the event to Miyagi Prefecture, ultimately overturning that option, but did not oppose all three of the venue changes put forth by Koike; his actions were a face-saving measure for the top official of the hosting city, which effectively is the IOC's biggest client.

Coates's main focus is on keeping down the "excess of 3 trillion yen" budget presented by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's investigative committee. Rome, which had planned to put in a bid for the 2024 Games officially pulled out of the race in October, citing deteriorating public finances. This has left just Paris, Budapest and Los Angeles in the running. If the expenses of the Tokyo Games grow, it could push more cities to avoid bidding for future games.

Preparations for the Tokyo Games have been held up with Koike's announcement to review event venues. The Tokyo Olympic organizing committee had originally been scheduled to submit its budget for the Tokyo Games to the IOC right after the Rio Games. But with the venue for volleyball still up in the air, the committee might not even be able to do so before the end of the year. Cost-sharing ratios among the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, and the Japanese government have yet to be decided, and talks with local municipalities close to the venues have been halted.

Coates stated that the submission of budget plans for the Tokyo Games have been postponed repeatedly, and pressed the parties involved for a prompt resolution.

"We wholeheartedly agree with cost cutting. But it's important that we reach a conclusion soon," Tokyo Olympic organizing committee President Yoshiro Mori said, in an apparent attempt to apply pressure on Koike.

Tokyo had earlier been praised as being on track in its preparations for the 2020 Summer Games, but the IOC's impressions of the host city are changing.

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