On September 7 in Buenos Aires the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will announce the winning candidate city as host for the 2020 Olympic Games from between Madrid, Istanbul or Tokyo, in what will be either a second consecutive failed bid by Tokyo, or a glorious return of the summer Games to Japan for the first time since 1964. Following the IOC inspections in Tokyo this March and a presentation to IOC members in Lausanne, Switzerland in July, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) has now done nearly all the campaigning/ingratiating it can. As clichéd as it sounds, the race is pretty tight. The IOC’s Evaluation Committee has said (albeit predictably) that “each one of the candidate cities could host perfect Games”, with veteran IOC member Dick Pound saying it was genuinely the closest race he could remember – partly because “all the bids had obvious strengths and weaknesses”.
Public support – 70% in Tokyo and 67% in Japan
The biggest strength of the Tokyo bid is in its apparent ability to deliver a well-funded, safe and secure Games without any of the instability saddling the other two bids. In a technical IOC report released in June, Tokyo was noted for its capital reserves as well as for being “a modern, dynamic city” with “one of the most modern and efficient” transport systems in the world. And the IOC can be pretty sure there will not be any protesting in Tokyo.
Referring to the failed 2016 bid, the Tokyo campaign team has said it aims to “keep the best and improve the rest“. Thus it has continued to boast about its ability to hold “an environmentally cleaner event in a compact area”, as well as being ”a world leader in anti-doping” that can offer a model of “clean sport”. The latter will hold particular sway for IOC members given recent revelations, with sprinters Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Veronica Campbell-Brown failing tests for banned substances.
The bid also addresses IOC concerns from 2007 about whether there would be enough space by planning to build the Olympic Village – in Harumi, Chuo ward – about 13 hectares bigger than that proposed for 2016. The Village has been praised also for its proximity to the sporting venues; it is within 8 km of 28 of the 35 proposed venues. Public support for the Games has also risen from only 56 percent in 2007 – a big issue for the bid then – to 70 percent this year.
While public support has increased in more recent polls, there does seem to be a lack of any deep enthusiasm to host the Games. When the IOC polled Tokyoites in May, the support rate was only 47 percent, versus 78 percent in Madrid and 73 percent in Istanbul. One reason for this might be because, as one commentator at the Lausanne presentations said, the bid “lacks a compelling back-story and is, to put it bluntly, a bit dull”.
At the presentations in Lausanne, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso spoke of how the Olympics was a chance for Japan to show the world it has stood up and recovered from the disaster that afflicted it in 2011. While this is no doubt true, appealing to the misfortunes of those in Tohoku and Fukushima to bring the glitz of the Olympics to Tokyo is, to say the least, a little cheap. It is, nonetheless, very much a feature of the Olympic Movement and commercial sports more generally to affix messages of worth and virtue to the actions of athletes, and thus, it might not be enough for Tokyo simply to be ready and well-organised for the Olympics.
Illuminate The Future
Public support – 76% in Madrid and 81% in Spain
Largely counted out in the early stages of the campaign on account of its crisis-hit economy, Madrid is now a serious contender following an impressive performance at the presentations in Lausanne last month, in which Crown Prince Felipe – a former Olympic sailor – gave an apparently illustrious speech. Dick Pound of the IOC weighed in again: ”if you’re grading performance, Madrid did the best in terms of the message and delivery of it”, he said. “The star of the day was the prince. It was his content, his delivery, his genuineness”.
The glamour the Spanish heir brought to the presentations contrasts with the low-cost, no-risk message his team’s bid represents – “a realistic bid for realistic times“, they say, in what looks like an Olympics for austerity and the economic zeitgeist. A relatively low budget is feasible in the main because 80% of the facilities are already built.
There are two troublesome areas for Madrid. The team has tried hard to present itself as financially capable of hosting the Olympics with a very small budget, but it is hard to understate the crisis the Spanish economy has been in for the last five years; it very nearly joined the gang of damned European economies that needed a bail-out, has seen continuous anti-government protests in response to deep austerity cuts and has unemployment figures at 27%. Given the fragile economy, one could hardly say there was “no-risk” in the IOC investing in Madrid. It just remains to be seen whether members want to give Spain the leg-up it, and the Eurozone, needs, which given the doubts over the Brazil World Cup in 2014 as a result of the widespread protests against bad government priorities, might not be what the IOC wants.
A second consecutive Olympics held in Europe might also be a factor for the IOC. President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge has said he “would love to see the continents that have not yet organized the Games… do that in the future”. London, Europe, held the last games and Beijing, Asia, before them, meaning if equity between the continents is what the IOC members like, they might be looking at Istanbul.
Public support – 83% in Istanbul and 76% in Turkey
Turkey presents the IOC’s best opportunity to take the Olympic Movement to previously unchartered territory.
The Istanbul team claim Turkey can “foster global understanding and inclusiveness by being the first secular Muslim country to host the Games”. Though its secularism has been on the wane of late, the more idealistic members of the IOC could well see a chance in Istanbul to use the Games to transcend and perhaps even mitigate percieved clashes of civilizations, with and within the Middle East.
Given that Turkey’s economy is now one of the fastest growing in the world, Istanbul is the most ready it has been out of all five of their previous bids. Transportation infrastructure and sports facilities are still relatively under-developed, but the campaign team have done well to turn show how the Olympic Movement can leave a lasting legacy with these investments, particularly for the region’s young people.
Earlier this year, the IOC might just have considered giving Turkey the benefit of the doubt over security concerns. Now, however, security seems very much to be Istanbul’s elephant in the room, as well as, surely, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s ham-fisted attempts to quash nationwide protests.
The force of Erdoğan’s government against what started out as small, peaceful protests has ignited the public and broadened the criticism against him, but the protestors initially demanded only to stop the demolition of Gezi Park for redevelopment, one of Istanbul’s few remaining green spaces – all this before large-scale construction for the Olympics has even begun. The IOC would surely not wish for the Olympics to add to the grievances of the people of Istanbul, as the 2014 World Cup has for many Brazilians. More risk-averse IOC members will therefore opt for Tokyo.