Madrid: Games as hope to city, country that needs it

MADRID --- Despite the economic hammering this country has taken, an International Olympic Committee survey indicates 76 percent of local residents want the 2020 Summer Olympics and 81 percent throughout Spain, the Madrid 2020 bid team saying at a Tuesday evening news conference that such figures show the Games offer a measure of hope to a city and country that wants and needs it. The poll numbers stayed relatively even from from IOC survey results released last May, which showed 78 percent support for the Games in Madrid and the surrounding area. That polling remained consistent, even as the Spanish economy remains mired in recession, Spain's second in three years, with the nation's unemployment rate at one in four, is proof indeed of the power of the Olympic spirit, bid leaders asserted.

"During a crisis," said Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee and Madrid 2020, as "everything is being questioned," when "you see a poll that says 81 percent of all citizens in Spain support this and 76 percent of Madrid residents support it, that's not to be laughed at."

The bid, he said, has three easy-to-understand big-picture non-sports goals:

One, to improve the image of Spain. Two, to attract foreign investment. Three, jobs. "Keeping that in mind," Blanco said, "looking at the support we are receiving -- it's major."

Madrid is competing against Tokyo and Istanbul in this 2020 race. The IOC will select the winner Sept. 7 at a vote in Buenos Aires.

Tokyo's poll showed 70 percent support, up 23 points from 47 percent last year, the evaluation commission said when it was there two weeks ago.

Current public support levels in Istanbul will be released next week when the IOC commission visits there. The IOC poll last year showed 73 percent support for the Games.

Margin of error, survey methodology and other data are due to be outlined when the evaluation commission report is made public in advance of the IOC's July all-members meeting on the 2020 race at its Lausanne, Switzerland, headquarters.

The release of the poll results came as Spain's IOC executive board member, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., walked the commission Tuesday through perhaps the key element in the Madrid bid, the financial details underpinning what they are calling here their "prudent" and "financially responsible" Games model.

Because this is Madrid's third straight bid, and because so much that would be needed to stage the Games has already been built, construction costs are -- by Olympic standards -- a relatively low $1.9 billion. Tokyo's estimated construction bill: $4.9 billion. Istanbul's: $19.2 billion, or a full 10 times Madrid's.

Over the course of those three bids, Samaranch said, Madrid has spent perhaps $100 million. Further, billions have been spent in infrastructure in and around the city. "Madrid's transformation has been considerable," Mayor Ana Botella echoed.

Of course, Samaranch said, everyone knows the Spanish economy is having it rough. But, Samaranch said in an interview with a small group of international journalists, "The truth of the matter is that ...  for Spain to continue bidding for the Games -- it is an act of responsibility.

"We have put in the money. It would be hugely and vastly irresponsible to walk out now and not wait there and get the financial and economic and social return of all the money we have invested and paid for already.

"Contrary to other bids, to other cities, like Rome that said we can't afford it," bowing out of the 2020 race last year, "in our case, we can not afford not to continue. You have invested all that money and you are ready to walk out and let go before trying to get what it brings, the windfall? We believe it's our perseverance, financially and from an economic point of view -- [to continue] is an act of responsibility."

photo courtesy Madrid 2020

Meanwhile, as a steady rain lashed the city Tuesday, the evaluation commission toured what would be Olympic Stadium, the aquatics center and several other sports pavilions.

The mayor said later, with a smile, "It's good news that it's raining. The level of the dams has risen. Therefore the visit of the evaluation commission has brought us the rain which is always good for our city."

Blanco, also smiling, said, "We scheduled the rain as of 6:30," meaning p.m. "It started as of 1:30. We got it slightly wrong."

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Here is the what the inside of the stadium -- built in 1994, site of a Bruce Springsteen show in May, 2003 - looks like now:

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The bill to re-do the stadium for Olympic purposes: $210 million.

And here is the aquatics center, just a few steps away:

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The aquatics center up-do would cost about $70 million.

"We have done [the] investment [and now] we need to see if we can put into value -- know, it's billions of dollars. Building an airport, extending the subway system, building the stadiums, building the Magic Box [stadium] for tennis, all that investment that has been done," Samaranch said.

"Many candidates, they think that if I get the Games I will do the improvement. Madrid did it the other way around -- continue to improve the city in order to get the Games."