Workers perform their duties at the construction site for the National Stadium, venue for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo on July 21, 2017. The suicide of a 23-year-old worker on Tokyo's Olympic stadium was due to overwork, his family said on July 21, as Japan races to finish building venues for the 2020 Games. / AFP PHOTO / Behrouz MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
The national stadium under construction in Tokyo © AFP

Japanese government auditors have said the latest budget for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics does not reflect the true cost of hosting the event, after finding almost $6bn of games-related spending parked separately as “administrative costs”.

When added to the declared budgets of central government, the Tokyo Metropolitan government and Tokyo Organising Committee, the costs identified by the auditors put total spending directly linked to the games at $24.7bn, about four times the figure envisioned when Tokyo was named host city in 2013.

The painstaking investigation, which the Board of Audit of Japan produced at the request of parliament, has intensified an already heated debate over which costs should be included in the headline budgeting for the Olympics — a figure that analysts say the International Olympic Committee would like minimised so as not to discourage cities bidding for future events.

Beyond the government’s declared Olympic budget spending of about Y150bn, said the report, was an additional Y650bn of “regular administrative costs” that had nevertheless been directly linked with the games in official descriptions.

Auditors said the Olympics’ colossal financial footprint had been partially obscured from the public by excluding from the main budget items like security, athletes’ transport, anti-doping measures and stadium communications systems that appear pivotal to the successful staging of the event.

At the same time, the Board of Audit found a number of central government spending projects, often with only tangential connection to the games, had been justified with a stated link to the Olympics and Paralympics. 

These included the promotion and development of robots to help the elderly, the promotion of “Olympic-related work-life balance” and environmental improvements to the Imperial Palace moat.

Toshiro Muto, the chief executive of the Tokyo organising committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said: “The Board of Audit has pointed out that there are some related costs worth Y800bn other than the announced Olympic costs. I do not think this is wrong. But we wonder whether these really are the Olympic costs. We do not think these should be included.”

Mr Muto cited the cost of “subsidising the creation of a hydrogen society” as a good example of a project that the government has explicitly linked to the Olympics but does not belong inside the Olympic budget. 

Some Japanese officials have argued, however, that even the cost of the new national stadium should not be included, as its value to Japan will be measured by the decades it is used after the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Tokyo’s bid in 2013, which promised exactly the kind of “compact” games the IOC favoured, involved the renovation of certain sports venues built more than 50 years ago when Tokyo hosted the 1964 games.

The cost of various parts of that renovation, noted Board of Audit officials, has been buried within the “administrative” designation of central government spending not included in the declared Olympic budgets.

The latest formal reckoning of the cost of the games, known as Version Two, was announced in December 2017 and came in at $12.6bn and boasted a reduction in costs.

But the Board of Audit calculated that this had been in part achieved by absolving the Olympic budget of projects that organisers had now decided they were not responsible for. 

The latest Version Two budget, concluded the Board of Audit investigation, “does not reflect the total cost related to the event”.

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