IOC committee impressed with Osaka, but questions transportation links

Thursday, March 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OSAKA, Japan (AP) _ Osaka's sports venues are top-notch, but efficient transportation links are crucial to the city's proposal to host much of the 2008 Summer Olympics on nearby islands, a team judging the bid said Thursday.

The evaluation commission from the International Olympics Committee finished a four-day tour of Japan's second-largest city Thursday as part of its mission to scrutinize the five cities competing to host the games.

``We have witnessed Osaka's impressive _ and that is no exaggeration _ impressive existing sports facilities,'' committee chairman Hein Verbruggen said. ``Two-thirds of the sports infrastructure required for the games already exists, and is of extremely high standards.''

The team, which arrived in Osaka on Sunday after visiting Beijing, said, however, that the success of the games would depend on transportation links between three islands where key facilities will be built, a stone's throw from the city.

Under Osaka's proposal, the islands _ all of them manmade _ would house an Olympic Village with accommodations for 15,000, the Olympic Stadium and five competition venues, and a press center.

``The heart of the games is on these islands,'' said team member Craig Reedie. ``It is absolutely crucial that the athletes can get to the venues, the press can get to the venues, and the spectators can get to the venues, all quickly, all efficiently, all easily.''

IOC evaluation team members, who are also looking at bids by Paris, Toronto and Istanbul, Turkey, refused to provide details of their discussions about transportation with the bid committee. The IOC will decide who will host the games at a meeting in Moscow in July.

But Osaka Mayor Takafumi Isomura, the chairman of the bid committee, said that the evaluation team wanted to know what organizers would do if there were a traffic accident during the games on one of the bridges.

``They were worried the athletes would be late for events,'' he said.

Isomura said that the bid committee was putting together a written answer to the question, proposing using service roads along underwater subway lines if the bridges were blocked.

Under new anti-graft rules, IOC members are barred from visiting bid cities, and the evaluation team's stay was Osaka's chance to show off its strong suit in the competition: modern, high-tech infrastructure and sports venues.

The city already has sports sites including a pool, gymnasiums, a tennis center, venues for rowing, triathlon, canoeing, a slalom course and two equestrian centers. Many of those were built in the 1990s _ meaning they are up-to-date.

Osaka officials said they felt the team left with a strongly favorable image of the city, though the Japanese side seemed surprised at the team's aggressive questioning.

``We received a lot of questions _ and those questions were not diplomatic questions,'' said Isomura. ``They were very serious questions.''

The evaluation team also pressed the bid committee to clarify whether large infrastructure projects _ such as plans for an additional runway at Osaka's Kansai International Airport _ should be included in Olympics-related spending.

Isomura said the committee told them that the airport project would go ahead with or without the games.

Olympics-related spending has been one of the complaints of critics of Osaka's bid.

The city expects the cumulative bill for the bid to reach 2.75 billion yen (dlrs 23.5 million) by the end of this year, according to the bid committee. And officials plan to spend another 78 billion yen (dlrs 665 million) on a stadium and a pool. A subway line is being built, but officials say that is not related to the games.

One of the critics, the ``We Don't Need the Osaka Olympics Federation,'' for instance, says that the city already accumulated a debt of 5.6 trillion yen (dlrs 48 billion). The group fears that the manmade islands will sink faster than expected, meaning even more money will have to be spent to support them.

The evaluation team also looked at security preparations, the environmental impact of an Osaka Olympics and access for handicapped.