POSTED: July 15th 2015

NEIL WILSON: Time for change, Mr Bach

The London 2012 Aquatics Center © EG Focus - Creative Commons
The London 2012 Aquatics Center © EG Focus - Creative Commons

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Zaha Hadid is an architect who, in her own words, does not "make nice little buildings".

What she does in the Olympic context is design buildings that go horrendously over the budget she was given by Olympic organising committees.

The first she tried was the Aquatic Centre for the 2012 London Olympic Games. It ended up costing $403 million, three times the original budget.

The design did not cater for enough spectators for an Olympic Games, so ugly temporary stands had to be affixed to it. It also did not have sufficient height to allow for money-making water slides to be added after the Games to encourage greater public use.

Now the London-based architect has done it again. Her design for the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo has been re-budgeted. The new estimate is $730 million more than the last at $2.1 billion and nobody in Tokyo is putting any money on a gamble that it will be the final cost.

And to put that $2.1billion into context, it is $200 million more than Madrid, Tokyo's rival for the 2020 Games, budgeted for its total infrastructure needs.

Olympic stadia are more often than not white elephants. They are of use for just 16 days and leave locals scratching their heads afterwards for the use they can be put to.

Look at Athens, the 2004 hosts. There are an entire herd of the white elephants there. Most venues are disused and derelict.

 Or more recently look to Beijing. Its Bird's Nest Stadium, its centre-piece at a cost of  $480million,  has hardly hosted an Olympic sports event since. Part of it has become a shopping mall to help cover the $15million annual cost of maintenance.

Or of more pertinence to Tokyo go back further to the last Olympic Games held in Japan, the Winter Games of 1988 in Nagano. That went so far over-budget that the locals had the accounts destroyed to hide the numbers.

The best estimates are that the final cost was $7.5 billion and that it cost every family in Nagano Prefecture $22,000 to pay off. The final pay-out is expected later this year, 27 years later.

And need I mention Sochi whose 2014 Winter Games was so far beyond its original budget that it frightened major cities around the world from bids they had intended to launch for future Winter Games.

When Thomas Bach, the IOC president, launched his plan for the Olympic Movement's future,  Agenda 2020, he said: "Now is the time for a change".

He was right. White elephants must become extinct in his world. The world has enough major stadia. It does not need to indulge the fantasies of architects anymore. Nor does it need to look for hosts among cities that do not have the existing infrastructure to host them.

They could start that process on the last day of this month by not awarding the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing, a city that requires the expenditure of mind-boggling amounts of money to build a high-speed train link between its venues.

Time for change, Mr Bach.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Olympics · IOC · Neil Wilson

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