The Tokyo Bay aquatics arena is a magnificent structure. Its two pools are surrounded by rows of towering seats on three sides. In a normal Olympic year, it would have been filled with 15,000 fans.
These Summer Games are not normal. The Tokyo Aquatics Centre will be seen as a symbol for poor planning, excessive spending, and unfortunate timing.
These are the Olympics made for TV, due to the coronavirus pandemic. No fans allowed. Hardly any of those 15,000 seats will be needed for the swimming competition, which is always one of the showcase sports of the Summer Games.
While it’s natural to feel sympathetic toward Tokyo for being stuck with a games that were delayed a year and are finally carrying on in a world still mired in death, misery and a desperate struggle to defeat COVID-19, the enormous price tag for these Olympics — $15.4 billion officially, maybe twice as much in reality — didn’t have to be nearly so high.
Despite all the bold claims of the International Olympic Committee regarding reducing costs and making the games more financially sustainable, the powers that be somehow justified spending more than half a billion dollars on an aquatics venue.
It was a complete waste of time in Tokyo. There were plenty of venues that could have been made into temporary swimming pools. However, diving and water polo would have been fine in the Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center. The center has arching windows that offer a stunning view of the bay.
The new swimming stadium is right next to the 3,635-seat natatorium that has been host to many Japanese championships since 1993.
Although the Tokyo Aquatics Centre will have a capacity of 5,000, it is difficult to imagine how these facilities will be used after the Olympics.
The new aquatics center will host artistic and diving swimming while the existing complex is used for water polo. This is not the only instance of Olympic spending in Tokyo, despite the best efforts of Japanese organizers and Thomas Bach, IOC chief, to limit costs.
Planners pushed ahead with a $1.4billion rebuild of the national stadium and new facilities for volleyball, badminton, and gymnastics in a region already rich in sports infrastructure.
They chose not to use Tokyo Dome (45,000 seats), home of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. This dome could have been used to host indoor sports like gymnastics and basketball, but they didn’t. A 17,000-seat arena was also built in Yokohama and passed over for an Olympic venue.
Existing facilities all over the city and the sprawling metro area were destroyed by the Olympics. As always, the people in charge chose grandiose plans to cast their city in an even more favorable light.
This kind of hubris is always a recipe for financial success. Ask Athens, Sochi, Rio de Janeiro or Pyeongchang, host cities left with unneeded venues after the Olympics.
Tokyo’s excessive spending was made worse by the Pandemic Games, which have cast a shadow over a city that had been so eager to show off its wealth for the rest of the world.
These new arenas, which are now the most expensive TV studios ever built, are no more than a flashy and beautiful addition to Tokyo’s lifestyle. Those fans that would’ve been cheering from the stands are now forced to watch from home.
There will be plenty more drama, world records and improbable upsets.
John Atkinson (high performance director for Canada’s swimming team) stated that “I think the athletes can adjust to the environment they are within.” It is an incredible feeling to walk into this stadium. It’s clear that everyone is excited to be here. It doesn’t matter if there are just one person or 15,000. The Olympic Games is important.
It is true that those who will be able to compete in this architectural marvel are thrilled.
Zac Reid, a New Zealand swimmer, stated that excitement was the main emotion he felt. “I felt fast just by walking into the complex.”
However, crowds can never be compared to the real deal.
“I think when you stand next to your competitors, you’re going to get the adrenaline anyway, but 100% it’s more exciting when you go up on the blocks with the crowd,” Swedish star Sarah Sjostrom conceded. It’s hard to compare it with anything else. It’s incredible.”
There is an inevitable feeling of pity for Japanese citizens, who will have to pay a huge financial price for the government’s gross mistakes and a global disaster they did not control.