POSTED: October 7th 2015

NEIL WILSON: Olympic belt-tightening but not for the suits

Copacabana Beach / Rio 2016
Copacabana Beach / Rio 2016

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

(SFC) The sharp intake of breath you have been hearing in the Olympic world is not that of athletes in the gym. It is Games host cities tightening their belts by a couple of notches.

Or in Rio's case by 30% of their notches. Its belt is being pared back to fit the anorexic.

The spectacular extravaganza NBC and the other global TV networks were expecting to open the Games on August 5 next year may now be more village fete than Rio Carnival.

The Opening Ceremony organiser has been told his budget has vanished. Apparently, he must make do with only 10% of what Danny Boyle had to play with in London.  And presumably a far lesser percentage than was thrown at the 2008 opener.

As many as 10,000 unpaid volunteers may also be dispensed with even though their cost is only in a uniform and training. Out, too, will be many solid-frame buildings at venues. Tents will take their place.

This, it seems, will be the Austerity Games, a title last given to a Games in 1948 when a British nation living on food rations did the Olympic Movement a favour by hosting its Games when no other city wanted them.

The Rio organisation needs to cut its budget now because it foresees a 10% overspend on its scheduled $3.6 billion, an excess that would have fallen on Brazil's hard-pressed taxpayers at a time when the country is struggling economically.

Tickets are not selling as they did in London. Only 40% of the 5 million are sold. A lottery to decide who gets tickets, necessary in the over-subscribed London market, has been abandoned.

Sponsors that queued with their offers in 2009 before the Brazilian economy crashed at a time when Rio2016 thought it could be picky have disappeared over the horizon. "The days of lavish spending are over," said Rio2016 Director of Communication Mario Andrada.

There should never be lavish spending on Olympic Games. It is a 16-day sports event, not a migrant-crisis or a world famine. Athletes do not need $2 billion stadia, as Tokyo2020 realised belatedly; they are perfectly happy for something that will be of use to local kids when they have gone home rather than architect's aggrandizement, and particularly if they do not have to swim past midnight to suit NBC's scheduling.

I notice, however, that no mention was made among the cuts in the quality of the hotels and the cars driven by volunteer-chauffeurs that will await the 100 members of the IOC and the senior officials of international federations when they arrive expecting the red carpet unrolled.

Former president Jacques Rogge's willingness in London to use the same accommodation as athletes - at least for one night - is not for the Agenda2020 generation.

The days of lavish spending may be over but not for them. The Suits will not have to suck in their breath to accommodate tighter belts. They have their good life there in black and white signed off in the Host City contract. No economizing allowed.

** 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 · Rio 2016

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