2010 countdown overshadowed by financial worries and muted enthusiasm

Olympics logoVancouver - With just a year to go until the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the winter resort of Whistler, organizers are battling to stay within budget and maintain enthusiasm for the project.

Thursday sees the countdown for the 2010 Games reach the one-year milestone and the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) has called on all Canadians to forget the negative headlines that have surrounded the event, at least for one day.

VANOC desperately needs some good press to improve the public mood towards the Olympics. The latest opinion poll shows that in the State of British Columbia, where Vancouver is situated, just 52 per cent of the population believes the Games will bring more advantages than disadvantages.

Most of the concern is financial, not least because Canada is currently experiencing a national budget deficit of 27.76 billion dollars, it's first in 12 years.

The global financial crisis has also hit Olympic preparations with Vancouver recently receiving approval to borrow 374 million to complete its athletes' village after private-sector funding dried up in the wake of falling property prices.

But concerns still remain about corporate funding and ticket sales, although organizers say early demand for tickets has been higher than expected.

VANOC believes it has kept ticket prices reasonably low with 100,000 of the 1.6 million tickets available costing just 25 Canadian dollars and 50 per cent of the total costing
100 dollars or less.

Despite the financial doom and gloom, VANOC remain confident that the Winter Olympics can take place within the 1.76-billion Canadian dollar (1.44 billion dollars) budget.

VANOC is still in search of five corporate sponsors to fill sponsorship hole of around 30 million dollars while the completed competition venues, which cost 580 million Canadian dollars, have been paid for by the provincial and national governments.

Not surprisingly, this has led to claims by the event's critics that, just like the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, it will take decades to pay back these sums.

Another area of heated discussion is security with no precise figures available. Estimates put the cost at 800 million dollars while critics say it could rise to as high as 1 billion.

The issue of Vancouver's homeless community has also raised hackles with demonstrators taking to the city streets last Sunday, arguing that money spent on the 2010 Winter Games would be better spent ending poverty.

The cost of the athletes' village could have funded more than 4,000 homes for the homeless, they say.

In comparison, the construction of a 125-kilometre long motorway to Whistler and a "Canada Line" metro from the airport to the city centre have barely rated a mention. (dpa)