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IOC delegates content with Olympic preparations to date

2010 organizers get go-ahead for NHL-sized ice

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After two days of tours and talks the IOC Coordination Commission said it is pleased with the progress made to date on the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler.

It also endorsed an announcement made by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games to hold the ice-events on NHL sized ice rinks as opposed to international-sized ice.

"It was not an easy call, I have to be honest," said René Fasel, chair of the 2010 Coordination Commission, during a press conference on its visit to Vancouver and Whistler this week.

"We Europeans we are not used to the small ice…but more than 50 per cent of the players participating in the Olympics are NHLers.

"We have to help, we have to work together to make the Olympic Games as sustainable as we can. It would be stupid to spend so much money to make this construction."

VANOC CEO John Furlong said the change would save $10 million in venue construction costs and allow 35,000 tickets to be released for all the games.

Both Furlong and Fasel denied that the change was a cost-cutting measure only, saying it was a reflection of IOC policy to work to keep the Games affordable and work with organizing committees to help reach their sustainability goals.

"For us this is a highly responsible decision… and a lot less complex for the organizing committee preparing the venues," said Furlong.

Saving money is one of VANOC’s top priorities. It recently asked the federal and provincial government for $110 million in new money for venue construction due to construction inflation costs. That brings the venue budget to $580 million from $470 million, an increase of 22 per cent.

The move provoked some criticism, but said Fasel in an interview with Pique Newsmagazine , "If we have a look at the costs there is an increase of about 50 per cent (in construction costs) so if I look at the positive side VANOC did a good job to go to… 22 per cent.

"Always in the Games it is not easy with the budget, especially in construction. But I think they are trying very, very hard and I think the Canadian taxpayer should not be concerned because I can tell you that VANOC is really working the best that they can and to be transparent here."

Added Gilbert Felli, executive director of the Olympic Games: "You should make a differentiation between over-spending the budget and an inflation of the country on the subject. Here we have an inflation of the subject on the construction budget and that is not the responsibility of VANOC because what has happened in British Columbia VANOC cannot control."

VANOC will produce its first quarterly report next week, which will outline the current venue construction costs. Fasel and Felli said they had not seen the report.

"We don’t know the details of it," said Felli.

"We know that when we are at this level of Games preparation that the budget, when you try to understand line by line… it is a long process and again there I think VANOC has a good team."

Felli was also part of the IOC team, which came to Whistler on Wednesday. He said he was impressed with the scenery and the way the venue facilities had been overlaid on the sites.

"The way the venues have been designed on this landscape is great," he said, adding that the delegates were pleased to learn the Athletes Village would go ahead as a legacy neighbourhood.

The IOC was also pleased to see VANOC stay true to its commitments to include the Squamish and Mt. Currie First Nations. Both are involved in the construction in the Callaghan Valley, the site of the Nordic venue.

"This is beautifully done and they are in advance of the schedule," said Felli.

"I think it is a good thing because it goes to the commitment of legacy."

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