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Looking for savings, Olympics contemplates slashing funds for athletes village

The future athletes village is already under construction near Paris ahead of the 2024 Olympics. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)
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Olympic athletes hoping to live it up at the 2020 Games in Tokyo may be in for disappointment. In an attempt to save funds, the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday it will consider revising the “level of service” provided at the athletes village, the area set aside for athlete accommodations at the Olympics.

“We are putting a number of questions to those national Olympic committees as to how we think we can find savings by reducing, to an acceptable level, the level of service in the Olympic Village,” IOC Vice President John Coates told Tokyo 2020 organizers Tuesday (via Reuters).

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Coates said he had already submitted a request to 28 national Olympic committees to comment on the proposal, which includes such ideas as shortening the length of time athletes are allowed to stay. Right now, it’s possible for athletes to remain in Olympic-provided accommodations for the entire span of the Games, even after their competitions have finished. The IOC, however, is asking NOCs to consider making beds “transferrable,” which would mean shuffling athletes or team staff out early to make room for those who might be competing later in the Games.

“NOCs might receive some financial compensation to give up some beds,” Coates said, speaking of the various scenarios that the IOC has asked NOCs to consider. “They might receive some compensation in return for more transferrable accreditations for their support staff, those things.”

The IOC plans to discuss the idea more in-depth in December, once it hears back from national committees.

Already, the athletes village in 2020 will not be the same as it has been in recent years. McDonald’s, which famously has provided free food to Olympians in athletes villages since 1996, decided to end its sponsorship of the Olympics following the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. While other, healthier food options are also provided to the athletes, McDonald’s proved one of the more popular providers, apparently fueling Usain Bolt’s first Olympic treble in 2008. Bolt claimed he ate hundreds of McNuggets as he raced to three gold medals.

Other amenities at past Athletes’ Villages include a beauty salon, a barber shop, a grocer, a dry cleaners and a florist.

“It feels like a little mini college town,” Team USA tennis player Denis Kudla told CNN while competing in last year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Coates did not make clear any other possible cuts the IOC is considering, nor did he give an amount money organizers might save from cuts to the athletes village.

Rising costs have put many cities off from hosting the Olympics. Brazil, for example, spent around 51 percent more than originally planned, the Financial Times reports, while Russia is said to have spent more than $50 billion when it staged the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Those investment overruns are scaring off potential hosts.

“Even though the IOC and its sponsors do great and the TV contracts are profitable, it’s still the case where these host cities have bad outcomes,” Chris Dempsey told The Washington Post’s Rick Maese in May. Dempsey has become an expert consultant called on by other cities since he made Boston drop its bid to host the 2024 Olympics thanks to the grassroots movement he helped to start in 2015 called No Boston Olympics.

Since then, several other cities also dropped their bids, leaving just Paris and Los Angeles to vie for the 2024 spot. Perhaps hoping to avoid another scenario like this in the future, however, the IOC ended up doing something it had never done before: It simultaneously awarded the 2024 and 2028 Games to Paris and Los Angeles, respectively.

“Congratulations to Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028,” IOC President Thomas Bach said last month at the official awarding ceremony. “This historic double allocation is a ‘win-win-win’ situation for the city of Paris, the city of Los Angeles and the IOC.”

He added, although not referring to the shrinking pool of cities vying to host the Games, “It is hard to imagine something better. Ensuring the stability of the Olympic Games for the athletes of the world for the next 11 years is something extraordinary.”

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