Madrid Seeks to Lure 2020 Games Despite Austerity Drive; Bullring to Double as Basketball Court
Spain is radically cutting its budget, but the beleaguered nation’s capital still wants to pour public funds into a risky financial bet: hosting the Olympics.
Madrid—a finalist to host the 2020 Summer Games along with Istanbul and Tokyo—says the Olympics would help bring “economic and social recovery” to Spain and boost employment, particularly for young Spaniards facing a 52% jobless rate. “We need two different things: power for the economy and an element of enthusiasm for the population,” Víctor Sánchez, managing director of Madrid 2020, said in an interview. “We see [the youngsters] feel the need to be involved in a big project like the Olympic Games.”
The city’s bid committee is marketing the proposal as a shoestring Olympics—a model designed to show how to organize the event on a tight budget. Madrid’s initial application says 78% of the sports venues already exist in the city and only about nine structures need to be built.
Its latest plan, due in early 2013, would go even further, slapping a roof on Madrid’s emblematic bull ring to deploy it as a temporary basketball court and transforming a stadium for a second-tier soccer team into a field-hockey arena. The emphasis on existing infrastructure is “the best guarantee of this candidacy,” Madrid Vice Mayor Miguel Ángel Villanueva said Saturday at an Olympic-committee event that featured Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal.
Skeptics point out that Madrid is among the most indebted cities in Spain. Ratings firm Fitch recently downgraded Madrid’s regional government, predicting its debt could more than triple—to €23.7 billion ($29 billion)—in 2014 from 2010. The country’s economy, meanwhile, is enduring a double-dip recession and the government is pushing through a €65 billion austerity program.
Madrid’s bid raises another question: After London—which was selected to host the 2012 Olympics before the current crisis—how will austerity programs sweeping Europe affect the Continent’s role in hosting Olympic Games and other big events?
Though they account for only about 7% of the world population, countries in the EU have hosted about half the Games and have won nearly half of the medals ever awarded. In the coming years, however, European government cutbacks could jeopardize that outsize role. The full impact of funding cuts in Europe on actual performance in Olympic competition remains unclear. Greek sports programs have been hobbled by budget slashing, but other European countries in the throes of austerity, such as Ireland and Portugal, have been more protective of elite sports budgets ahead of the Games this month.
The IOC gave Madrid the best score of all three finalists, but added: “Careful monitoring of Spain’s progress on economic issues is needed to further assess future risks of delivery.”
From the Wall Street Journal 7/16/2012