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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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July 23, 2008 2:15 PM

Vancouver's pricetag likely to get a little -- or a lot -- bigger

Posted by Ron Judd

How many times to the well before the water dries up -- and the people hauling the bucket get cranky?

In a province where people already are quick to accuse Olympic organizers of "hiding" chunks -- very large chunks -- of the cost of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics on someone else's budget, new cost estimates to secure the Games are going over like a lead security zeppelin (remember Athens?)

Vanoc, the Games organizing committee, originally set the bar for security at around $175 million, a figure many experts and most critics have since have dismissed as hopelessly low. Security at the 2002 Salt Lake Games was estimated at more than $500 million; security tabs in Athens and Turin, Italy both exceeded $1 billion U.S.

The new Vancouver figure might climb as high. Critics already are throwing around a figure of $1 billion Canadian, based on the projected costs not only of direct security at venue sites, but broader defense measures by Canadian troops, border guards and immigration officials. (RCMP officials already have announced plans to berth one and possibly two large cruise ships on the Vancouver waterfront just to house police at a time of intense hotel bookings in the city. )

Government types, mulling all this at a recent Pacific North West Economic Region summit in Vancouver, reportedly weren't biting on that billion-dollar estimate, saying only that the final security cost "clearly" will jump over the budgetary line drawn with the Games' original bid in 2002.

At the conference, Stockwell Day, the federal public safety minister, sidestepped questions on the pricetag, saying they're still being developed, Canwest reports here.

"It's going to be more than $175 million, clearly, and the exact numbers will be out pretty soon," Day said. "We're just going over some fine details."

The true cost of security is always difficult to define, given the broad number of agencies, local, federal and even international (NATO provided air support for the Athens Games; the U.S. 6th Fleet patrolled the Mediterranean), that get involved. The smart money in Vancouver these days is that the official, final budget for security might wind up at twice or three times the original estimate. (Recent cost boosts, such as a doubling of the original budget for doping patrol, while defensible due to changes in the program, tend to reinforce that expectation with the public). The official operating budget-estimate for the Games remains at about $1.6 billion Canadian, most of which is expected to be recouped through TV rights, ticket sales, advertising and other sources. And to be fair, these Games seem far more likely to come in at or near budget than a number of others in recent history.

But the question in B.C. -- a valid one -- is whether the budget used to sell the Games to a largely agreeable public was realistic to begin with.

Whatever the security number proves to be, it will presumably be shared, as in the original estimate, by the provincial and federal governments, who also are sharing a $580 million capital construction budget that doesn't include an off-the-books pricetag upwards of $2 billion for a widened Sea to Sky Highway and a palacial new visitor's center on the downtown waterfront that will host the International Broadcast Centre. And don't even get people started on whether the new Skytrain line to Richmond should be part of the overall Oly tab.

All of this should provide great fodder for Vancouver's anti-Olympic forces, who long have predicted that the "true" cost of hosting a modern Olympics will be dramatically greater than the sanitized-budget version -- amounting to a cost that's just not worth it.

Also of note are Day's comments about border patrols during the Games -- a major concern for government types in both Washington state and British Columbia, who fear that federal help from both Ottawa and Washington, D.C., might be too late or simply insufficient to prevent border nightmares when an estimated 5,000 people per day cross the border for Olympic purposes during the Games.

"We are not going to have those long, multi-hour lineups at the border that some people are talking about," Day pledged at the conference."


Canadian officials, for their part, are pledging to increase the number of entrance and exit lanes from four to as many as 10, Day said.

Clip that one out and save it for 18 months.


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Blogroll and links

www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog
www.usolympicteam.com: U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site.
www.aroundtherings.com: Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription).
www.wcsn.com: News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions.
www.beijing2008.com: Beijing Organizing Committee Web site.
www.vancouver2010.com: Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site.
www.london2012.com: London 2012 Summer Games site.
www.sochi2014.com: Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site.
www.chicago2016.org: Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.