IOC boss ducks Korea row in Tokyo 2020 visit


Tokyo (AFP)

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach on Wednesday dodged questions over reports some Tokyo 2020 events could be held in South Korea, a move which would further embarrass beleaguered Games organisers.

The IOC is considering staging rowing and canoeing in the South Korean city of Chungju, according to Japanese media, as they try to slash a Tokyo 2020 budget which has skyrocketed to an estimated $28 billion -- four times that of the initial bid.

But Bach was hurriedly ushered out of a scheduled press briefing in the Japanese capital after answering prepared questions from Tokyo Olympic officials that hinted at further friction between local organisers and city politicians.

With the Korean bombshell -– which cited unnamed sources -- making headlines, a media gathering was quickly shut down as nervous Tokyo organisers refused to allow more than 100 journalists to question Bach about the reports.

Stripping Japan of events would be seen a major humiliation for Tokyo organisers, although a Seoul sports ministry official told AFP the reports came as a "surprise" to them.

Bach and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike on Tuesday agreed to set up a four-party working group comprising Tokyo's metropolitan government, the IOC, Games organisers and the Japanese government to try to rein in snowballing costs.

Koike, who became Tokyo's first female governor in July after promising to slash wasteful spending, then proposed national and international sports federations be added to that working group, but Bach clearly felt otherwise.

"There was an agreement on a four-party working group," insisted Bach.

"This was very well received by the Tokyo metropolitan government and the governor, and of course this happened in agreement with the organising committee. Therefore we will follow this agreement."

The option of moving rowing and canoeing to South Korea comes after a panel of experts proposed moving the events to northeast Japan, several hundreds of miles away, instead of building a new venue in Tokyo Bay.

The panel also called for existing venues in Tokyo to be renovated to stage volleyball and swimming to help cut costs further, as it predicted the total cost for the 2020 Games would hit nearly $30 billion, almost three times higher than the 2012 London Olympics.

Tokyo organisers have lurched from one crisis to another since beating Madrid and Istanbul in the race to host the Games, with Abe forced to rip up initial plans for the Olympic stadium amid public anger at its $2 billion price tag.

The Tokyo Olympic logo was then scrapped after accusations of plagiarism before French prosecutors launched an investigation into $2 million in payments which they suspect were made to help Tokyo secure the Games.

Japanese Olympic officials have denied any wrongdoing.