IOC begins Madrid inspection

Updated: March 18, 2013, 4:18 PM ET
Associated Press

MADRID -- Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy told IOC inspectors Monday that much of the infrastructure needed for Madrid's 2020 Olympic bid is already built, emphasizing a low-cost approach at a time of financial austerity.

Rajoy welcomed the IOC's evaluation commission at the start of its four-day inspection of Madrid, which is competing against Tokyo and Istanbul.

"Madrid has a great advantage: 80 percent of the sports facilities needed to hold an Olympic Games are already built," Rajoy said.

Spain's government has thrown its weight behind the bid, although the country is immersed in a deep financial crisis and has an unemployment rate of 26 percent.

Rajoy said Madrid was accustomed to hosting major events and Spain already welcomes 58 million visitors each year as one of the world's favorite tourist destinations.

With Spain's economy mired in its second recession in three years, thrift is the byword of Madrid's bid.

The bid committee said 28 of the 35 proposed venues are already built, and that its budget to finish preparations is a modest $1.9 billion, plus an additional $192 million for security costs.

The IOC panel has already visited Tokyo and will travel to Istanbul next week. The full International Olympic Committee will select the host city in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7.

"The budget that remains for the construction of infrastructure, some (euro) 1.5 billion divided between the three administrations responsible and over a period of seven years, is a perfectly affordable amount," said Madrid mayor Ana Botella, referring to how central, regional and city governments plan to split the budget of nearly $2 billion.

Madrid is bidding for a third straight time after losing to London for the 2012 Olympics and Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games, and the budget figures have been trimmed from the previous campaigns to reflect Spain's reduced means.

The country has the European Union's highest unemployment rate, and Rajoy's government is partway through implementing one of the Euro bloc's most stringent austerity programs.

As the government has cut the size of the country's welfare state, Spain has been rocked by public protests, large demonstrations and strikes.

The capital's transport system is expected to suffer partial strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday and three demonstrations are planned to coincide with the IOC visit, one of which is due to be held near the site of the future Olympic stadium.

Five of the 14 IOC panel members who will review Madrid's venues, finances and security plans during the four-day tour were here during the previous bids.

This time, inspectors will find new additions to already existing venues, such as the inclusion of the city's Las Ventas bullring -- scene of sporting events such as tennis or fencing going back to the 1920s -- the Retiro park and Real Madrid's Valdebebas training facilities.

Some venues, however, such as the 65,000 capacity La Peineta stadium for track and field events and the Aquatic Center, are only part finished. Both are listed as existing facilities.

Construction on the 18,000-capacity aquatic center began in 2004 but was halted in 2005. The bid's dossier states that work is due to resume in June 2014 for completion in June 2016.

La Peineta was built in 1994 and is scheduled to continue undergoing "renovation" until June 2015, although most observers say this date is likely to be exceeded.

"Our plans are for La Peineta to be transformed into a modern sports venue in time, and then later to be handed over to Atletico Madrid football club as its new main stadium," Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee, told The Associated Press.


Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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