By Kelly Whiteside
September 07, 2013
Photo: Victor R. Caivano AP
BUENOS AIRES – In a climate of political and economic uncertainty, following a bit of risk-taking by awarding Games to Sochi and Rio de Janiero, the International Olympic Committee opted for a "safe pair of hands" by selecting Tokyo to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Tokyo breezed past Istanbul, 60-36, in the final round of voting. The Japanese city was the favorite from the start, earning the most votes in the initial round with 42. With 26 votes each, Madrid and Istanbul went to a tiebreaker and Madrid was eliminated by four votes.
"Tokyo can be trusted to be the safe pair of hands and much more," bid leader and IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda said in the final presentation. "Our case today is simple. Vote for Tokyo and you vote for guaranteed delivery. … Tokyo is the right partner at the right time."
Added IOC president Jacques Rogge: "You have described yourself as a safe pair of hands. As a surgeon, this is something that appeals to me even if I didn't vote myself," he joked when asked why Tokyo won. He also cited the high quality of the bid and the experience of those behind it.
When Rogge announced the winning city, members of the Japanese delegation burst into tears. For a country that endured a 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and is now dealing with the leak of radiation-tainted water at the Fukushima nuclear plant, Saturday's news was reason for national celebration.
"By hosting the 2020 Tokyo Games, we will create hope," Tokyo mayor Naoki Inose said. "Our hosting of the Games will accelerate the recovery of Japan's tsunami-affected area."
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Concerns about safety given Fukushima's proximity to Tokyo (about 150 miles) was considered the bid's biggest hurdle. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have assuaged some concerns when he addressed the topic in his opening remarks during the city's presentation. "Some may have concerns about Fukushima. Let me assure you, the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo," Abe said.
As a 10-year-old, Abe was inspired by the 1964 Games. When his city was awarded the 2020 Games, Abe said he was overcome by emotion. "I heard the name Tokyo. I was so touched, overwhelmed. The joy was even greater than when I won my own election," said Japan's prime minister.
Tokyo will be hosting the Olympics for the second time; the 1964 Olympics was the first to be staged on Asian soil. Its legacy was significant, especially coming "just about 19 years after the Great War," the prime minster said. The Games helped the country restore national pride following the crushing defeat.
For 2020, Toyko's theme is "Discover Tomorrow" but it will also build on its Olympic past. The venue that hosted swimming and basketball in 1964 will now be used for handball. The gymnastics and water polo building from 1964 will house table tennis. Judo will be held in the same arena.
The compact plan for the Games would put most of the venues within a five-mile radius. Much of the $3.9 billion construction budget is expected to go to the renovation of National Stadium and a retractable roof that looks like something from outer space. The Games also have a surplus fund of $4.5 billion that could be used right now to pay for 10 permanent new venues, the city's mayor said.
Japan's presentation was technically stunning and by far the most emotional. It began with these words: "I am Mami Sato. And I am here because I was saved by sport."
Sato, a runner, detailed how she lost her leg to cancer when she was 19. Sports helped give her new goals. She competed in the Paralympic Games in Athens and Beijing but as she was preparing for last year's Games in London, the tsunami hit her hometown. "For six days I did not know if my family were still alive," she said. "And, when I did find them, my personal happiness was nothing compared to the sadness of the nation."
Sato detailed how more than 200 Japanese and international athletes made 1,000 visits to the area, what she called "the impact of the Olympic values as never before in Japan."
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Tokyo's win could also boost the chances of baseball/softball, which is vying for a spot in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics in a vote against wrestling and squash that will be decided Sunday. Baseball is Japan's most popular sport. Wrestling is heavily favored in the race.
Istanbul entered voting with its chances fading following concerns about civil war in neighboring Syria, anti-government protests and a slew of doping scandals. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an Olympics in his country "will send a very meaningful and strong message, not only to the world, but to our broader region."
"At this critical moment, we would like to send a strong message of peace to the whole world from Istanbul," Erdogan said.
After making some bold moves to take the Olympics to new places, the IOC is returning to Japan for the first time since 1998, when the country hosted the Winter Games in Nagano. Sochi will host the next Winter Games in February -- the first Winter Olympics to be held in Russia. Two years later, the Games will be held in South America for the first time. Just two years after Brazil hosts the World Cup, the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro.
With an economy in crisis – a 26.3% unemployment rate, which balloons to more than 50% for young people, Madrid failed to convince the IOC's 95 voters of its stability. Madrid failed to advance even with 80% of its of venues already in place (thanks to two previously failed bids and the smallest construction budget -- $1.9 billion -- of the three cities). Istanbul's was $19 billion.
Tokyo made two other convincing points in its presentation. One significantly distanced itself from Istanbul and the Turkish doping scandal. "We are proud that our athletes have competed since Stockholm, in 1912. And prouder still that they have competed in the true spirit of Olympism, with not a single Japanese athlete ever failing a doping test at the Olympic and Paralympic Games," Tokyo 2020 president Tsunekazu Takeda said.
The bid committee also emphasized the city's reputation as excellent hosts. They have the largest number of highest rated Michelin restaurants in the world. (Surely scoring major points with the well-heeled IOC crowd.) They are honest hosts too. When someone loses money, even cash, it's quickly returned. Last year, $30 million (USD) in lost cash was handed over to police.