WHISTLER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Security concerns and a global financial crisis hung over party preparations for the one-year countdown to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics on Wednesday.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge, swapping his usual suit-and-tie for a sweater, arrived in the Olympic resort looking relaxed and ready to join the celebrations planned for across Canada on Thursday to mark the one-year countdown.
“We’re looking forward to tomorrow to having just a day to celebrate and feel good about what has transpired over the last decade,” John Furlong, chief executive officer of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) told a packed news briefing.
But it is what has transpired over the last few months, not the last decade, that has set off alarm bells across Vancouver as the bill for staging the Games continues to climb.
This month VANOC has been busy trimming costs in an effort to reign in an operating budget that has shot up C$127 million to C$1.75 billion ($1.42 billion).
At the same time, the City of Vancouver has been forced to take over financing of the athletes’ village after cash-strapped developers of the C$1 billion ($800 million) project watched their funding dry up in the withering economy.
As the February 12 milestone approached, British Columbia residents were bracing for a gigantic Olympic bill to land on their doorstep, with Games security costs originally projected at $175 million expected to skyrocket to $1 billion.
While VANOC taxpayers anxiously await for cost and details of the security plan, Vancouver residents have been stunned by a surge in gang violence that has erupted across the Olympic city in a series of brazen gun fights.
”The president has not been briefed on a security budget nor have we,“ said Furlong. ”The security budget has not been made public yet, we have not got the information or details on it.
“We expect sometime in the not too distance future we will know what the numbers are.”
Despite the uncertainty, Rogge gave VANOC’s preparations the thumbs up, saying he was confident organizers would deliver on all their obligations.
”This is my third visit to Vancouver and I’ve been extremely pleased by progress of the organization. All the infrastructure is almost ready and the test events are in full phase.
”I believe you can say we are very cost conscious. Already since 2003 we have focused on keeping costs as low as possible.
”The athletes and the federations report these test events have been very well organized.
“So I think everything bodes well for the future Games.”
Editing by Ossian Shine