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2016 candidates promise economic certainty

MIXED throughout their long string of promises, representatives for the 2016 Olympic candidates paid heed to the languishing worldwide economy, saying they could overcome it to guarantee successful games.

"There's a deep threat of recession during the construction for the 2016 Games," said Ichiro Kono, leader of the Tokyo bid. "You're looking for an organizing committee you can trust. Everything will be delivered on time and on budget."

Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro all talked specifically about the economy as part of the 20-minute presentations they offered to International Olympic Committee members.

Chicago didn't go into specifics, but bid leader Pat Ryan said he would go into "granular detail" about the city's economic plan during the IOC's site visit next week.

The United States is the only country that doesn't offer financial backing from the federal government for an Olympic bid, though the Chicago and Illinois state governments have given guarantees.

The rest of the countries made frequent mention of their federal backing.

"Reliability is a very, very important part," said Spanish IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., son of the former IOC president. "You don't want to risk and do experiments under the current economic cycle."

That's the same theme being struck by the other three cities, though history has shown cities have very little ability to bring Olympic projects in at around budget. London's budget for the 2012 Games, for example, has reached US$16.5 billion, more than double since the original figures were released.

Recognizing the changing times, all the cities pledged more compact games that will make extensive use of existing venues as one way of handling unexpected cost overruns. It seems the era of using the Olympics to help rebuild a city could be over - or at least on hiatus.

Chicago plans an Olympics with 90 percent of its athletes within 15 minutes of the competition venues, which will be based around Lake Michigan. The American candidate focused more on that and the passion of its sports fans than economics.

"We were making a presentation to people of sport," Ryan said. "There were some voters in the room, but we didn't feel that was an appropriate use of our 20 minutes."

Madrid touted itself as the most compact city, the safest choice, and showed a plan with two main sections of Olympic activity - the "heart" and the "lungs," with 77 percent of the infrastructure already built.

"We don't need seven years to get it done," Samaranch said. "That is something the IOC should appreciate a lot."

Tokyo, trying to bring the Summer Games back for the first time since 1964, said 97 percent of its venues would be within five miles (eight kilometers) of the Olympic Stadium. It touted a US$4 billion cash reserve from the government.

"I can confirm to you that the Japanese government is fully committed to making all financial guarantees as required by the IOC," said Seiko Hashimoto, Japan's state secretary for foreign affairs and a former Olympic speedskater and cyclist.

Rio said about 50 percent of competition would be within the main Olympic cluster, but all events would be within city limits that include lagoons, beaches and mountains. Trying to bring the Olympics to South America for the first time, Rio talked up the successful Pan American Games of 2007, as well its status as host of the 2014 World Cup.

Rio has put out a budget figure of US$14.4 billion that includes infrastructure costs the other cities have left out - the main reason the Brazilian city's budget was nearly the sum of the other three.

"The last thing people want with all these economic problems is budget problems," Rio mayor Eduardo Paes said. "Our budget is honest, and it's realistic."

These were the last presentations before the cities host the IOC on their site visits, which begin next week in Chicago.


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