The much-anticipated IOC 2020 Evaluation Commission Report, which was made public on Tuesday, shines the spotlight on the strengths and weaknesses of the three candidate cities.
Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul now have a little more than two months to find ways to increase support for their Olympic bids, especially outside of their respective countries and regions, and persuade IOC voters to select their city for the quadrennial global extravaganza.
Tokyo has been labeled the safe pick. Led by Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda, who also serves as the president of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Bid Committee, the bid has demonstrated meticulous preparation and focused on showcasing a “compact Games concept” that’s buoyed by its steady financial backing ($4.5 billion in a hosting reserve fund) and, as the report noted, “one of the most modern and efficient transportation systems in the world.”
“We are proud that the report confirms our bid’s very strong technical excellence, which offers certainty in uncertain times for sport,” Takeda said. “There can be no doubt that we will deliver and offer the IOC a strong partnership.
“We are also aware that we must deliver much more than a strong report. This is why we are thrilled that the report reflects the excitement and passion within our Games vision, the delivery of a city center Games celebration with 35 million passionate sport fans that will be unlike anything seen before.”
He added: “This report clearly identifies the advantage of our ultra-compact Games plan, which puts the athletes first with 85 percent of the venues within 8 km of the Olympic Village, and fully integrates the Games in (the) heart of Tokyo’s safe and exciting city center.”
Tokyo hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics. Could that factor against Japan’s capital city so soon after London, the 2012 host, was awarded the Summer Olympics for an unprecedented third time?
Remember this: Neither Madrid nor Istanbul has done so. Meanwhile, all three cities were also in the running for the 2016 Games, which was awarded to Rio de Janeiro.
The Sept. 7 vote in Buenos Aires at the IOC General Assembly — some 99 IOC members will vote by secret ballot; in many ways shrouded in secrecy like the election of a new Pope — will be one of the defining moments in global sports for the next decade, with potential to be a transformative catalyst for society for the nation that wins the bid.
The general feeling is that Madrid is a true long shot to be awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics due to Spain’s economic woes, though there’s no study been done that can prove a financial downturn will continue forever.
If conventional wisdom holds to form, that pits Tokyo against Istanbul. Of course, the IOC doesn’t have a crystal ball to monitor world affairs.
But consider these key questions:
■ How long will the prolonged economic slump continue to plague Spain?
■ If the street protests that started late last month in Istanbul and spread to other cities — after the IOC evaluation report was completed in mid-April — destabilize or force out the Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or produce fears of that happening, will IOC members vote against Istanbul?
■ Will regional diplomatic/geopolitical conflicts involving Japan and neighbors China, Taiwan, South Korea, North Korea and Russia over claims to disputed islands, especially the five Senkaku isles, heat up in the coming weeks?
And will those nations exert influence on IOC members, especially in nations that benefit from economic investment and development, to vote against Tokyo? That’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
Sports talk-show hosts and pundits are known to pontificate about which team “looks best on paper.” Similarly, scholars, scientists and think tanks like to prepare long-winded, thorough reports, sometimes to show off their knowledge on a particular subject.
That doesn’t mean that the IOC’s 110-page Evaluation Commission Report isn’t a valuable tool to analyze and compare the three bids. And it doesn’t mean that the evaluations, which included inspections of the three bids this spring (the Tokyo visit was conducted from March 4-7, and was the first of the three inspection visits), is sure to be the definitive deciding factor.
The report did not provide a thorough list of sporting events staged in Istanbul and Turkey in recent years.
Instead, it stated, “Over the past 10 years, Istanbul and Turkey have hosted an increased number of international events in Olympic sports, including world championships. Istanbul 2020 has committed to a strategy to host further international events in Olympic and Paralympic sports in the future to further improve its organizational experience and to promote sports less popular in Turkey.”
Japan, on the other hand, was commended for its experience in hosting marquee events.
“Tokyo and Japan have hosted major international events in 27 Olympic sports over the past 10 years,” the report said.
Like political elections, Olympic voting has often ended up in one of two categories: a landslide victory or a narrow win.
The intrigue factor is certainly a boon for the Istanbul bid, and Turkey is an emerging nation on the global stage.
In bidding for the fifth straight time — while this is Tokyo’s second straight attempt and Madrid’s third — Istanbul has gained valuable experienceabout the complicated process along the way. At the same time, Turkey’s demographics are undergoing a major shift.
In a nation with 73 million people, the report stated, 42 percent of the population is under 25. And Turkey has become the world’s 17th-largest economy. Those two factors spell out major potential in an emerging market that has never experienced the Olympics before, and the corporate-driven agenda is as much a part of the Olympics as the athletic competitions. Moreover, Istanbul, with a “Bridge Together” motto, could become the first Olympics to be staged simultaneously in Europe and Asia as the ancient city connects both continents.
By awarding the 2008 Summer Games to China, the IOC picked the most populous country ever to host the Olympics. Similarly, by giving the nod to South Africa in 2010, FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, handed the World Cup to an African nation for the first time.
Will IOC members decide that it’s now time for a predominantly Muslim nation to host the Games? And will they think that making that happen will serve as a tool to promote peace in the region?
The fact that IOC headquarters are located in Switzerland makes the organization’s sphere of influence strongest in Europe.
Even so, money talks more than any other factor in the cut-throat competition to win the bid. Corruption and bribery have been well-documented problems in Olympic history, and there’d be no surprise if secret promises have been handed out to IOC voters — in exchange for future favors — a pet project here, a no-bid land construction deal elsewhere. Cronyism will never be fully eradicated.
Nevertheless, validation of Tokyo’s bid plan came in the financial analysis section of the report.
“The OCOG (Olympic Committee for the Games) budget was prepared in an effective and thorough fashion based on scoping work requirements, considering the experience of past host cities and applying this to the Tokyo environment,” the report said. “It represents a reasonable estimate of the costs and revenues associated with hosting the Games and the Commission considers it to be achievable. The non-OCOG budget appears to represent a good understanding of the scale of the financial commitments required to deliver the Games. . . “
While the Tokyo “Discover Tomorrow” motto is a catchy phrase that looks to the future, the theme harkens back to the seeds that were planted when the Olympics took place in the capital city in 1964.
“The 1964 Tokyo Games provided a 50-year sports legacy for the city of Tokyo,” the evaluation report noted. “Through organization the 2020 Games, Tokyo seeks to further extend this legacy for generations to come.”
How beneficial another round of explanatory presentations — in Lausanne, Switzerland, next Wednesday and Thursday — will be for officials from the Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid bid committees remains to be seen. It could provide momentum to one of the bid cities as the countdown to the Sept. 7 voting in Buenos Aires inches closer to two months.
Tokyo looks like the comfortable choice. Istanbul may offer more intrigue. Madrid may be deemed too much of a financial risk. But a lot can change in seven years — or even seven weeks — in the digital age.