x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Olympic Games 2020: Could be just what the doctor ordered for Madrid

Their budget is small in comparison as economic woes are the focus of a third straight bid for Spain's capital city, writes Iain Rogers.

Ana Botella, the mayor of Madrid, attends a news conference after a bid presentation of Madrid 2020 Candidate City before the International Olympic Committee members in Lausanne. Frabrice Coffrini / EPA
Ana Botella, the mayor of Madrid, attends a news conference after a bid presentation of Madrid 2020 Candidate City before the International Olympic Committee members in Lausanne. Frabrice Coffrini / EPA

For a sports-obsessed country in the grip of a debilitating recession and stained by allegations of political corruption, winning the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games in Madrid is exactly the tonic Spain needs.

At least that is what government and bid officials are arguing as they attempt to convince International Olympic Committee (IOC) members the capital deserves to stage the world's biggest and most expensive sporting event instead of Istanbul or Tokyo.

As ordinary Spaniards are forced to swallow cuts in wages and benefits, spending is slashed on public services such as health and education. Unemployment hovers just below 30 per cent, Madrid has presented a bid characterised as the "Austerity Games".

Local officials say that with much of the infrastructure already in place, it will be the first time the projected Games budget of some US$3.1 billion (Dh11.1bn) exceeds investment of just under $2bn in projects linked to the hosting of the event but not directly related.

That compares with Istanbul's massive non-Games budget of around $17bn, dwarfing expected Games expenditure of $2.9bn. Tokyo, which hosted the Games in 1964, is also planning to incorporate existing venues and has estimated a non-Games budget of around $4.4bn compared to $3.4bn for the actual event.

Madrid's strategy, their third Olympic bid in a row after failed attempts for the 2012 and 2016 editions, requires a delicate balancing act.

On the one hand struggling Spanish tax payers, and particularly residents of the capital, must be persuaded that the long-term benefits of hosting the Olympics outweigh the economic cost.

At the same time, IOC members must be convinced that a Madrid Olympics will be a resounding success – something like the Barcelona Games in 1992.

The Madrid-born Veronica Molina Perez-Tome, head of marketing for the nationwide Marca Sports Cafe chain, says she has sympathy with her compatriots who are angry that the Games would suck in cash which could be used to fund hospitals and schools.

"I understand them but I don't agree," she said. "I don't agree because this is an investment and investments almost always pay off at some point.

"Maybe it's not the best time to be diverting cash from other areas but the money will come back. Considering everything we are experiencing at the moment, Spain needs a boost, and this is a brilliant opportunity."

As a Madrid native, Molina Perez-Tome, 31, would feel a special pride in hosting the Olympics.

"There are times when maybe you don't have confidence in your country," she said.

"Many are leaving, and the Games could provide an injection of positivity and a sense of optimism about the future."

She also expects a significant boost to the chain's sales and is hopeful the Olympics might help in their effort to attract customers who want to watch sports other than football.

"Money, of course, is short at the moment but it will provide a return that will be positive for the country and for us specifically in terms of sales.

"As a sports-themed chain perhaps the Games will have more of an impact on us than other sectors. Hostelry is going through a tough time."

Theresa Zabell, the chief executive of international relations for the Madrid bid and an Olympic sailing champion in 1992 and 1996, is clear about why the city and the country needs the 2020 Games.

"What is most exciting about being here is what it could mean for the future," she said in Buenos Aires, where the winner will be announced on Saturday, when the IOC meet to choose from Madrid, Istanbul or Tokyo.

"It could mean an improvement in the lives of a great number of people and that is a huge motivation," she added.

"Spain needs more youth employment and having the Games here in 2020 will open up fantastic opportunities for young people."

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