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Tokyo Olympic budget expected to hit $25 billion

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TOKYO (AP) — The price tag keeps soaring for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics despite local organizers and the International Olympic Committee saying that spending is being cut.

A report just released by the national government’s Board of Audit shows Japan is likely to spend $25 billion to prepare the Games, and the final number could go even higher.

This is nearly a four-fold increase over Tokyo’s winning bid in 2013, which the report said projected costs of 829 billion yen, or $7.3 billion at the current exchange rate of 113 yen to the dollar.

Tracking Tokyo costs is getting more difficult as work speeds up, deadlines near, and disputes arise about what are — and what are not — Olympic expenses. Complicated accounting also makes it difficult to figure out who pays for what, and who profits.

“It’s the most amazing thing that the Olympic games are the only type of megaproject to always exceed their budget,” Bent Flyvberg, an authority on Olympic budgeting, said in explaining his research: “The Oxford Olympics Study 2016.”

Flyvberg said the study failed to “find even one” Olympics that came in on or below budget.

Tokyo is a case study.

In December, the Tokyo organizing committee said the Olympic budget was 1.35 trillion yen, or about $12 billion.

This consisted of equal contributions of 600 billion yen ($5.3 billion) from the organizing committee and the Tokyo metropolitan government, with another 150 billion yen ($1.3 billion) coming from the national government.

But a month later, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said the city needed to chip in an added 810 billion yen ($7.2 billion) “for projects directly and indirectly related to the Games.” She said this included building barrier-free facilities for Paralympic athletes, training programs for volunteers, and advertising and tourism plans.

This raised the overall costs to 2.16 trillion yen, or about $19.1 billion.

The IOC and local organizers dispute these are Olympic expenses, describing them as “regular administrative costs” that fall “outside the overall Games budget.”

Flyvberg credited organizers of recent Olympics with trying to control costs, but tight Olympic deadlines make it difficult. Other large building projects can be pushed back a few months. Not the Olympics.

He also said it was inefficient for different cities to keep organizing the Games.

“All you can do when problems begin — and problems always begin on projects of this size — is to throw more money at the project,” Flyvberg said.

Another Tokyo cost increase popped up a few days ago.

A 178-page report by the Board of Audit said the national government’s share of spending had increased to 801 billion yen ($7.1 billion) from the $1.3 billion estimated back in December.

This brings total spending to 2.81 trillion yen, or just under $25 billion, with suggestions it could reach 3 trillion when the games open in just under two years.

The report said “a large amount of spending was expected to continue after 2018 leading up to the event.”

The report urged organizers, the Tokyo city government, central government, and local agencies to increase transparency.

In a statement Tuesday to The Associated Press, local organizers again disputed what should be called Olympic costs.

Spokesman Masa Takaya said expenditures listed such as “inbound tourism, road constructions, subsidy for creating a hydrogen society, and even improving accuracy of weather forecasts with better satellites,” should not be considered Olympic expenses.

The audit report also faulted Tokyo organizers for excluding other expenses from the budget. The report said these came to about 650 billion yen ($5.6 billion) and included things like: repairs to existing buildings; security costs; the cost of running doping facilities.

It said the organizing committee’s December budget did “not reflect all the costs related to the operation of the event.”

About 80 percent of the $25 billion will be taxpayer money. The rest — about $5.3 billion — comes from the privately funded operating budget. This budget receives $1.7 billion from the IOC with the rest coming from sponsors, merchandising and ticket sales.

Tokyo organizers say they have saved billions in the last several years by using existing venues, holding shorter test events and by making other cuts in construction.

The IOC has also tried to promote frugality, aware that hidden and soaring costs have driven away many possible Olympic bidders — particularly for the Winter Olympics.

Three bidders remain for the 2026 Winter Olympics: Calgary, Canada; Stockholm, Sweden; Milan-Cortina, Italy. Several others dropped out.

Organizers of the recent Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, reported a budget surplus of $55 million this week. Meanwhile, the provincial government is complaining about paying millions for upkeep on empty venues, with the national government unwilling to assume the costs.

There is talk of razing several empty venues.

“Even though people try to bring down costs, it’s very difficult,” Flyvberg said. “But there is some progress. But not nearly as much as for other types of megaprojects.”

Flyvberg added that “for a city and nation to decide to stage the Olympic Games is to decide to take on one of the most costly and financially most risky type of megaproject that exists, something that many cities and national have learned too their peril.”

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U.S. to play in snow volleyball tour, led by 4-time Olympian

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When USA Volleyball asked four-time Olympian Lloy Ball to put together a team for a snow volleyball tournament in Moscow this week, the 2008 gold medalist was eager to accept.

Never mind that he’s never played on the snow before.

Or that, at 46, he’s not a likely candidate for the U.S. Olympic team if the discipline is eventually added to the Winter Games.

“I’ve been playing volleyball my entire life. It would just be an amazing feeling to know that me and my friends would be able to help volleyball grow,” Ball said. “To help be one of the forefathers, to get another discipline of volleyball into the Olympics, it would be awesome.”

The son of a volleyball coach and a member of the U.S. indoor team that won gold in Beijing, Ball played professionally in Russia for six years and was a natural choice to be a part of first American team to play on the European snow volleyball tour. After what he is calling an exploratory mission, he hopes to report back to the national governing body on how it can help the sport grow.

The ultimate goal: helping snow volleyball earn a spot in the Olympics — perhaps by 2026.

“We want to climb this mountain step by step. We do not want to rush,” said Fabio Azevedo, the general director of the sport’s international governing body, adding that snow volleyball will join the Olympics “as soon as the discipline has an amazing relevance in the world.”

“We have our road map, we have our timeline,” he said. “We really believe it is premature now to mention anything about Winter Olympic Games. I cannot say to you 2026 is realistic or not.”

Still, they are plowing ahead.

After a demonstration at the PyeongChang Olympics, the European governing body held its first snow championships in March. With its 2018-19 tour starting this weekend in Moscow it has invited teams from the United States to compete. (Teams from Kazakhstan and Brazil were also offered wild-card entries.)

Knowing that he spent time in Russia and would make a good ambassador, USA Volleyball chief Jamie Davis called Ball, who remains active as a coach and a semi-pro grass and beach volleyball player. He pulled together a team with Will Robbins, Kevin Owens and Tomas Goldsmith.

Although they have been training outside in Indiana to get used to the cold, the first time they will play on a snow court will be in Moscow.

“I’m going to rely on my massive amount of repetition and skill training and experience,” Ball said with a laugh. “Hopefully we won’t embarrass ourselves too badly and hopefully we’ll know what to do better next time. I’m going to come back and sit down with Jamie, and maybe say ‘Hey, this is something that can take off.’”

The women’s team for the Moscow tournament, which USA Volleyball put together, consists of Allie Wheeler, Emily Hartong, Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook.

“It’s a milestone for us,” Davis said. “We’re starting at level zero and building this up from scratch.”

“My hope is that we’ll get more and more athletes that are concentrating on snow, in addition to beach and indoor,” he said. “What I would hope for snow volleyball is that we’re going to be able to have players — north, south, east or west — be able to go outdoors to play the sport they love to play.”

Although snow volleyball has kicked around Europe for a decade, its growth accelerated the last five years. The European volleyball federation officially recognized the sport in 2015, and a seven-stop European tour is planned for 2018-19, starting with this week’s event in Moscow.

Azevedo said the FIVB is hoping to add three more events of its own, including one in Argentina that will be the first outside of Europe. Davis said he hopes to host one in the United States next winter.

From there, the FIVB is planning for a snow volleyball competition at the Youth Olympics and World University Games in 2020 and the winter Military World Games in 2021, along with a possible world championship.

“We are really shaping this new discipline around the world,” Azevedo said, adding that it would have much lower barriers to entry than many winter sports, which require ice rinks or luge runs or mountains.

That could help open the Winter Olympics to countries with successful volleyball programs but no ice or snow.

“Possibly snow volleyball is the only winter sport you can just pass by and play,” Azevedo said. “You just need proper clothes, football cleats, and you can play.”

An earlier incarnation of the sport had two-person teams, like beach volleyball, but organizers tinkered with the rules and settled on three-on-three, with a fourth teammate as a substitute. While indoor sets go to 25 and the beach goes to 21, snow volleyball games are up to 15

“Thank God, because it is minus 20 in Russia — Celsius,” Ball said.

Although the court layout is similar to beach, the ball is heavier when it gets wet and players wear thermal clothing and soccer cleats for traction. Ball said the sport puts a premium on ball control and serving, because it’s harder to move quickly in the snow.

“As long as you control the serve receive and serve well, I think on any surface you can be successful,” he said.

Martin Kaswurm, who is credited with inventing the sport when he set up a court outside his restaurant in Austria, said having different rules helps distinguish the sport from “its older brother beach volleyball” and could make it more appealing to Olympic officials.

“This should help to position snow volleyball as a unique version of the game,” he said.

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Ester Ledecka must decide between ski, snowboard worlds

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka will not be able to follow up her dual sport gold-medal performances at the PyeongChang Olympics with a similar haul of world titles this season.

That’s because the schedule won’t allow it, and she’s not happy about it.

The parallel giant slalom at the world freestyle skiing and snowboard championships in Utah is Feb. 4 — the same day downhill training opens at Alpine skiing worlds in Are, Sweden, and a day before the super-G.

“I was a little bit hoping they would reschedule the snowboard race — put it a week earlier so I could do it both — but they didn’t want to so I have to choose,” Ledecka said Tuesday after placing 29th in a World Cup downhill.

In PyeongChang, Ledecka followed her super-G title by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at one Winter Games using two different types of equipment.

The 23-year-old Czech is the reigning world champion in parallel GS.

Ledecka said she brought up the issue with the International Ski Federation, which governs both sports.

“On one side I see their point. For one athlete why should they do that, right? But from the other side I think I made snowboarding a little more popular, and I think a lot of fans would be happy to see me compete in both,” Ledecka said. “It’s their decision, and I have to respect it.”

Ledecka has not decided which worlds she’ll compete in. She’s currently going back and forth between the snowboard and ski circuits.

Last week, she finished first and second in two parallel GS events in Italy and then switched to downhill skis this week. She was fastest in a downhill training run Monday before finishing 29th in Tuesday’s race.

“I think I can decide right before,” Ledecka said. “But it will probably be early, so I’m well prepared.”

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