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Madrid pins hopes on low-budget Olympic bid

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People at a Madrid exhibition for the city's candidature for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Madrid is bidding against Istanbul and Tokyo. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP
09:14 CEST+02:00
With Madrid finding out on Saturday if it will be hosting the 2020 Olympics, the debt-struck city believes its penny-pinching bid to host the Olympic Games in 2020 will give recession-hit Spain a big economic boost.

The Spanish capital is banking on a low-cost $5 billion (€3.8 billion) Olympic bid that relies heavily on existing stadiums to surprise Tokyo and Istanbul when Olympic chiefs make their decision in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

It is a tactic of necessity for the Madrid 2020 team, backed by the city, the region and the central government.

Madrid has debts of €7.4 billion ($9.8 billion); the wider Madrid region is in debt to the tune of €21.6 billion; and Spain's overall public debt stands €923 billion, equal to 88.2 percent of the country's entire annual economic output.

Read The Local's opinion piece on whether Madrid should host the 2020 Olympic Games.

Madrid 2020 is proposing to spend $3.1 billion to put on the Games, plus another $1.9 billion in construction investment.

It is a modest sum compared to London 2012's estimated cost of £8.8 billion pounds, or $13 billion.

Madrid says it can save money because 28 of the 35 venues already exist and only four permanent structures will be added, including an Olympic Village of 19 apartment blocks, to be built with private investment and later used as social housing.

As recession-hit Madrid residents protest health and education cuts, and with popular unease over Olympic spending already evident in Brazil ahead of Rio 2016, a more costly bid could have been difficult to sell at home and abroad.

One member of the minor left-wing opposition Izquierda Unida in Madrid city hall, Jorge Garcia Castano, derided the bid earlier this year in an opinion piece headlined "The Hunger Games", criticizing it as wrong-headed in a period of financial and economic crisis.

But an International Olympic Committee-commissioned poll found 76-percent popular support for Madrid 2020 in the capital, and 81 percent in the rest of the country.

"We need it more than ever"

"Most of the investment to celebrate and organize 2020 has already been done. Madrid today, unlike other cities, does not have to turn itself upside down with works across the whole city," said Juan Maria Gay de Liebana, economist and professor at Barcelona University.

The investment should be financed as much as possible so that payments are made in the 2018–2020 period, he said, a time when the Spanish economy "in principle" should be growing and the income from tourists and benefits from business investment would be visible.

Spanish Olympic Committee president Alejandro Blanco has said that in the seven weeks from the opening of the London Games to the closing of the Paralympics, an extra 2.6 billion pounds or €3 billion entered the city.

Madrid offered a no-risk option as host for the Games despite the economic crisis, he said in an interview with new agency AFP in the run-up to the decision.

"The investment required to have everything ready is not affected at all by the crisis. That is why we have the citizens' support," Blanco said.

"We are all in high spirits, we all have a good feeling about it, but we also realize that there is a vote and the result could go any way. You have to be optimistic, fight to the last and wait for the decision."

Madrid 2020 bid organizers say hosting the Games in Madrid would provide a €3.87-billion boost to the Spanish economy and generate 83,000 full-time jobs.

"I sincerely believe that the Games would revitalize the economy, though they would not be a panacea," Madrid Mayor Anna Botella said in an interview with leading daily El Pais a week before the decision.

But analysts say it is hard to predict the economic impact accurately.  

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"It is obviously a plus if you can afford it, if you have got the infrastructure built and you can bring people in to use some of these things," said Edward Hugh, independent economist based in Catalonia.

"But since we have no idea where the Spanish economy is going to be in 2020 it is very hard to make more than very general platitude-type statements."

Whereas the Barcelona Games in 1992 had transformed the city, opening up beachfront areas that still lure visitors today, Madrid's more modest ambitions could have a slighter long-term impact, he said.

After failing to win the Games in 1972, 2012 and 2016, many people in Madrid believe it could be fourth time lucky, and they hope for a boost to a national economy that has been in recession for two years with a jobless rate of more than 26 percent.

"We need it more than ever. It is going to create jobs and that will give us some motivation, a dream for the young," said 23-year-old Diego Casada, visiting a Madrid 2020 exhibition at the city hall.

Gildo Seisdedos, an economist and lecturer at IE Business School, said Madrid had been smart to stress the infrastructure it already has rather than mounting grand projects like Brazil's for 2016 or Istanbul's rival bid for 2020.

"The country is going through such a restructuring and such cost cutting that it is impossible for these Games make us commit the error of inflating structure and equipment investments," Seisdedos said.

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