VANCOUVER (Reuters) - With labor crews scrambling to complete final preparations for next week’s Winter Olympics, the head of the Vancouver Games remained confident on Friday it would stay on budget.
Vancouver Organising Committee (VANOC) has an operating budget of just over C$1.7 billion for the Games and Paralympics, which will be held here in March, but its finances have been pressured by the global economic slowdown.
“The Games will be delivered for a balanced budget. That’s our responsibility, that’s our mandate,” VANOC chief executive John Furlong said after a downtown rally to mark the one-week countdown to the February 12 Winter Games opening ceremony.
The economic slowdown was “horrible to deal with” but it also forced local organizers to become more creative and better managers, Furlong said.
“We basically took our project, flipped it over, shook out everything that didn’t matter and focused on what counts. And that’s what athletes experience and what the people of the world experience here,” Furlong said.
VANOC also has been helped by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which agreed last year to cover a potential budget shortfall caused by the IOC’s failure to sign up as many major global sponsors as had been expected.
Olympic critics say the C$1.7 billion budget significantly understates how much it costs to host the Games because it does not include the C$900 million in government-funded security costs.
The federal and provincial governments also paid the C$580 million tab for building venues, and a 2006 report by British Columbia’s auditor general put the real taxpayer cost at C$2.5 billion when projects such as highway upgrades are included.
Canada still has painful memories of the 1976 Montreal Summer Games which left a debt that took years to pay off.
Vancouver has begun to take on the look of an Olympic city with the thousands of media and athletes beginning to arrive, but it also continues to enjoy unseasonably warm temperatures that has some joking these are the “2010 Spring Games.”
The warm weather has forced VANOC to truck snow to the Cypress snowboard and freestyle venue just outside of the city, but organizers remain confident it will be ready on time.
Also of concern to security officials are threatened protests that might turn violent, although even demonstration organizers say they are not sure how many people will show up.
“If we get more than one thousand people I will be a happy man. If we get less than one thousand people I will be a happy man,” Chris Shaw, a member of the Olympic Resistance Network, told reporters this week.
Anti-Olympic protestors say money spent on the Games would better be spent on social problems, and complain that the massive security net over the Olympics is designed to protect the event’s corporate sponsors, not the public.