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Olympic Organizers In Tokyo Consider Costs Ahead Of 2020 Games


In Tokyo today, the president of the International Olympic Committee says the IOC can work with that city to cut the cost of hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics. Soaring prices have become a constant problem for host cities as the IOC moves its massive sports spectacle around the globe. NPR's Tom Goldman says the situation is renewing calls for change.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: As far as envelope-opening moments ago, it's hard to beat the excitement of announcing a winning Olympic bid.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Awarded to the city of Tokyo.


GOLDMAN: That ecstasy in 2013 has been replaced by anxiety in 2016. A panel studying Tokyo's finances recently reported it could cost more than $30 billion, four times the initial estimate. The International Olympic Committee refused to call it a crisis meeting today between IOC President Thomas Bach and Tokyo's governor. But there's ample reason for concern, and not just in Japan. A week ago, Rome withdrew its bid for the 2024 Summer Games. Rome's mayor, Virginia Raggi, has been an outspoken critic.


VIRGINIA RAGGI: (Speaking Italian).

GOLDMAN: "With the Olympics," Raggi said last month, "we are being asked to take on more debt."

There's been a similar message from Boston and Hamburg, Germany. They also pulled out of the 2024 Games. Several other cities pulled out of the 2022 Winter Games. Those that bailed out have to look no further than those that went all in and paid a big price. Sochi 2014 - more than $50 billion. Beijing 2008 - more than $40 billion. Rio 2016 - economist Andrew Zimbalist says it could end up costing more than $20 billion.

ANDREW ZIMBALIST: The IOC's asking too much. And there has been a general tendency to expect the next Olympic host to outdo the previous host.

GOLDMAN: Here's Olympic historian Idy Uyoe.

IDY UYOE: The IOC typically demands that for Summer Games you have a stadium that seats about 80,000 people and is within a certain radius of the center of the city.

GOLDMAN: Uyoe says there are huge demands for lodging - 42,000 hotel rooms - for transportation, for city and sports infrastructure. And then there's the expense of housing IOC members, who don't exactly stay at the Holiday Inn.

UYOE: Their staff have to be in a certain class of hotel.

GOLDMAN: Andrew Zimbalist, whose book "Circus Maximus" is about the high cost of hosting the Olympics, says many host cities have had cost overruns - massive ones, in fact. There's the last-minute rush to complete building before the games. And overall, prices go up in the seven years between winning the bid and putting on the games. A growing number of critics, Zimbalist included, say the fix is obvious.

ZIMBALIST: If you had a permanent Olympic host or you had two or three Olympic hosts, you would pick cities not only that were developed cities economically...

GOLDMAN: ...But that had the transportation, communication, hospitality and sports infrastructure to support the Olympics, like Los Angeles, which is one of three remaining 2024 bidders. Would the IOC, so dedicated to spreading the games worldwide, go for a permanent host?

ZIMBALIST: Well, probably not.

GOLDMAN: But if potential bid cities keep dropping out, if corporate sponsors start saying the Olympic brand is tarnishing us instead of burnishing our products, perhaps. Until then, the IOC, which declined two interview requests for this story, is talking change. The committee is considering reforms that include countries sharing host duties and costs. With Tokyo, the IOC appears to have a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is moment. Today, IOC President Bach said he's confident there will be, quote, "a significant reduction in the cost of the next Summer Games." Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on