Facebook Twitter

NAGANO’S PLANS PROGRESS BUT NOT WITHOUT HITCHES

SHARE NAGANO’S PLANS PROGRESS BUT NOT WITHOUT HITCHES

While Salt Lake bid officials continued to lobby for the 2002 Winter Games, the Japanese city that beat them for 1998 had to report on its progress to the International Olympic Committee.

Members of the Nagano Organizing Committee spent an hour in front of the IOC Executive Board Sunday, detailing what's been done so far to get ready for the 1998 Winter Games.During a break in the closed-door meeting, IOC director general Francois Carrard said "progress is substantial and satisfying" in Nagano as well as in Atlanta, host to the 1996 Summer Games.

Members of the Nagano Organizing Committee were reportedly caught off guard by a request from IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch to consider putting snow-boarding on their program.

Nagano is already adding both women's ice hockey and curling, a competition on ice that's relatively unknown in the United States, and did not expect to be asked to do more.

Adding another sport to a list that already has a number of men's and women's competitions, including alpine and nordic skiing, figure skating, bobsled and luge, means building a new venue.

Akira Hashimoto, head of media for the Nagano Organizing Committee, said Nagano is already struggling to deal with the loss of an estimated $30 million in buying power due to the drop in the value of the Japanese yen against the U.S. dollar.

That's the difference between what the yen could buy back in 1991, when the bid was awarded and the budget was set at $760 million, and what it can buy now. Hashimoto said no decisions have been made about how to make up the difference.

"We must hold on to a tight money policy, making a full survey of expenditures," he said but added that it is likely Nagano will spend more than the $760 million budgeted.

Infrastructure improvements, including a planned high-speed train connecting Nagano to Tokyo, won't be affected because the Japanese government is picking up those costs, Hashimoto said.

The biggest share of the budget is being paid in U.S. dollars. CBS is paying a $375 million contract for the U.S. broadcast rights to the 1998 Winter Games.

The initial payment, made after CBS signed the contract last June, was Nagano's first Olympic revenue.

Under the terms of the agreement, Nagano receives 60 percent of the sales price, with the rest going to the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese Olympic Committee.

The first national sponsor of the 1998 Winter Games, Mizuno, was signed in August. The deal with the sporting goods company that makes skis, clothing and other products is worth about $20 million.

Environmental concerns continue to create headaches for Nagano. During the bid, environmental protests were loud enough that some observers believed they would cost Nagano the Games.

Temporary venues are being built for several ski events, including biathlon and cross-country competitions, so the sites can be restored after the Games.

Already, work was halted on one site until some rare plants and butterflies could be relocated, Hashimoto said. "This is the Japanese way of protecting the environment. Gentle," he said.

Construction on the speed-skating oval began in March and has yet to begin on one of the hockey stadiums, but the rest of the venues are about 50 percent completed, he said.

Despite all the work under way, many area residents outside the city of Nagano are not looking forward to the Olympics. "Most of the local people are very cool, not so much excited," Hashimoto aid.

Some fear they'll have to help pay off an Olympic debt. "Many politicians are against the construction or too much heavy taxation," he said. No taxes have been levied to fund the Games but could be if they lose money.

Hashimoto said he believes Salt Lake City, which trailed Nagano by only a few votes in IOC balloting for the 1998 Winter Games, will come out on top this time.

He dismissed Salt Lake City's North American rival, Quebec, Canada, as too cold and labeled Ostersund, Sweden, which also bid for the 1998 Winter Games, as the toughest competition.

If Salt Lake City is selected, Hashimoto had this advice for Olympic organizers: "Forget about the experience you just had. . . . You must create a new atmosphere, a new policy, new aims of the Games that will be accepted."

The IOC Executive Board is meeting before the start of the six-day Centennial Olympic Congress on Monday, and the full IOC will meet afterward. Salt Lake City made a brief presentation on its 2002 bid to the board on Saturday.