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Expensive Olympic Facilities to Sit Empty Due to COVID-19
Japan built them, but now nobody will come.
We’re paraphrasing the famous line from the baseball movie “Field of Dreams” to describe the situation at the already pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to get underway with opening ceremonies July 23 and continue through August 8.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan organizing committee announced recently that the Olympic Games will be played in front of no spectators after Japan announced a COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo. The state of emergency is in effect until August 22, according to ESPN.
Still, the games will go on, with thousands of sprinters, gymnasts, swimmers, and other athletes from around the world coming to Tokyo to perform inside empty venues for an international TV audience.
Originally scheduled for 2020, the Tokyo Games were pushed back a year with hopes that the pandemic would be over and the Games would be run as they always are. Instead, during the past year, the Games gradually arrived at the point of not allowing any fans into the venues. One of the first restrictions was to ban international travel to the Games.
As recently as two weeks ago, the IOC was preparing for venues to be filled to 50 percent capacity, up to 10,000. But the recent emergency declaration changed that to zero fans.
What does the announcement of no fans mean to the facilities world? Host cities for events like the Olympics or World Cup soccer spend billions on athletic facilities that are often used for the period of the events and then go unused and are eventually torn down due to a lack of maintenance or a plan to repurpose them. Tokyo’s National Stadium, a $1.4 billion facility built for the Games and scheduled to host the opening ceremony, is an example of the kind of money spent to build the athletic facilities.
For example, Brazil struggled to use its soccer venues — in a soccer-mad country — after hosting the 2014 World Cup.
The Tokyo Games has 42 different competition venues, according to NBC. Many are scheduled to be repurposed, and others are temporary venues. It will be interesting to see how Tokyo uses the facilities after the Olympians and Paralympians (who compete in the same venues starting August 24) go home.
Dave Lubach is managing editor, Facility Market.