Japan faces water quality issues ahead of 2020 Olympic Games

Japan faces water quality issues ahead of 2020 Olympic Games

Japan faces water quality issues ahead of 2020 Olympic Games

Updated 9 February 2018, 12:05 AEDT

The sporting world's attention may on the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, but next door in Japan construction costs are soaring and water quality problems are causing headaches for organisers of the 2020 Games.

Key points:

  • E. coli bacteria levels at sprint canoe and rowing venue 20 times higher than Olympic guidelines
  • Marathon swimming and triathlon venue failed a water test — competitors could leave the water with an infection
  • Tokyo estimated $9 billion cost, but it has now ballooned out to almost $16 billion

The price tag has almost doubled from the original bid — to about $16 billion — and the Tokyo Government has warned of even more costs associated with the Games.

Several venues have been hit by water quality issues, with E. coli bacteria levels at the sprint canoe and rowing venue this week revealed to be 20 times higher than Olympic guidelines.

Some athletes have previously criticised the Sea Forest Waterway, claiming its proximity to Haneda International Airport is too distracting.

The marathon swimming and triathlon venue — the Odaiba Seaside Park — failed a water test last October, meaning competitors could leave the water with an infection.

Officials blamed significant rainfall which led to runoff into the waterways and also said they planned to install underwater screens, which organisers said were effective in improving water quality.

It is not clear how much it will cost to fix those issues, but it will not help organisers already under pressure to make significant savings.

The International Olympic Committee's coordination commission chief for the 2020 Games, John Coates, has previously urged organisers to cut costs by more than $1 billion.

In 2013, when Tokyo won its Games' bid, it estimated the cost would be about $9 billion — now it has ballooned out to almost $16 billion.

Those kind of underestimates are par for the course when it comes to hosting the Olympics, according to sports tourism experts.

"No exception, every single Olympic Games faces problems," Waseda University's Professor Munehiko Harada said.

"Cost is the biggest one."

He said the estimates were almost always played down — to get the Government and people on board.

Sydney, for example, was forecast to cost $3 billion and ended up costing almost double that.

A lot can change before the Games

Because committees have to bid many years ahead of the Games being held, Professor Harada said a lot could change.

In Japan's case, the Fukushima earthquake pushed construction costs up.

"The price of buildings and labour just goes up after 2011 — that's an unpredictable thing before the Olympics," he said.

"The original plan for Olympic Games was centralisation — all of the venues concentrated inside Tokyo; however, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to add five new sports.

"They now have to decentralise the venues, so that's increased the costs."

Late last month, Japan's Governor Yuriko Koike revealed her budget forecasts, pointedly predicting an extra $10 billion worth of "Olympic-related" expenses.

"I wanted to show the sense of scale. Tokyo will shoulder this cost and I wanted to present this to the Tokyo citizens," she said.

But the IOC and local organisers claim the city's added costs are for many projects that would have been done — with or without the Games.

And they have had some good news, locking in more than $3 billion of sponsorship funding — a record amount.

Tokyo has eclipsed all of its Olympic predecessors in terms of sponsorship proceeds by almost three times and Mr Coates praised overall progress.

"Tokyo continues to show positive progress and meeting key milestones," he told an IOC session in Pyeongchang ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

He said new venue projects were also proceeding according to plan with the first such arena — for badminton — having opened late last year.