BUENOS AIRES – For Tokyo, forecasting the election results of the International Olympic Committee’s general session was always part of the Game Plan to win the 2020 Summer Olympics, and the Japanese capital did that — nearly down to the final vote.
Tokyo, having learned the lessons from its failed bid for the 2016 Games, used a strategic lobbying campaign focusing on an administration change being orchestrated by Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the influential Kuwaiti sheikh who has thrown his weight behind German IOC vice-president Thomas Bach to succeed IOC President Jacques Rogge in Tuesday’s vote.
The sheikh, who is president of the Olympic Council of Asia and is widely known in IOC circles as the “Kingmaker,” weaves an intricate web. “The election for the new IOC president and the host city are a complete set,” a Tokyo bid consultant, who requested anonymity, told Kyodo News.
In the buildup to the vote, Tokyo bid chief Tsunekazu Takeda had said Tokyo expected to get around 40 of the IOC’s votes in the first round of the secret ballot. A day before votes were cast, Tokyo forecasted 41 but figured it could nail down as many as 43; 42 of the 94 participants voted for Tokyo, just six shy of a majority that would have sealed its victory right out of the gate.
“We were right on the money,” said Masato Mizuno, the Tokyo 2020 CEO and former chairman of global sports equipment manufacturer Mizuno Co. “We took what we learned from the previous run (for 2016), study it and made sure we used it to our advantage as we planned out a comprehensive schedule with our Team Japan.”
The key: secure votes from the IOC members who voted for Tokyo’s 2016 bid, and more importantly, get the sheik in its corner. The candidates the Kuwaiti sheik preferred in the two previous IOC elections, for the presidency of the SportAccord in St. Petersburg in May, and then in Lausanne, Switzerland, in June, to choose the 2018 Youth Games, won on both occasions.
Marius Vizer, the President of the International Judo Federation, became the new SportAccord president, and in Lausanne, Buenos Aires won the right to host the Youth Games, with a resounding victory over Medellin, despite the Colombian city being the odds-on favorite.
Rumors spread in August that the sheik had “sold out” strong rival Madrid for 2020, and the Japanese government was quick to dispatch former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on a lobbying campaign to Kuwait, while Takeda went on a lobbying mission himself through Europe.
According to a senior bid official, Princess Hisako, widow of Prince Takamado, Mori and Japanese government officials, met privately with athletics’ world governing body IAAF president Lamine Diack, the Senegalese IOC member who has a heavy influence on the African vote, in a hotel room at the site of the IOC general session in Buenos Aires for discussions.
The election results are kept hidden until the IOC president’s announcement of the host city later in the day, and for good reason: Madrid, which was making its third consecutive bid, and Istanbul with 26 votes apiece for a tie in the first vote, could predictably be counted on to bow out of the competition, one way or the other.
After Madrid was eliminated by Istanbul, 49-45, in the tiebreaker, Tokyo gobbled up 18 more votes for a 60-36 landslide (one abstention) in the decisive round — well over the 49 needed for a majority.
For 2016, Tokyo picked up just 22 votes in the first round and was eliminated in the second round with only 20. According to one Tokyo government official, not being able to secure the Asian vote was the death knell, and Tokyo was limited to just five European votes.
This time, Tokyo worked hand and hand with the Prime Minister’s Office in the sharing of information and created a team of vote analysts. Being able to count on the Kuwaiti sheik, who is the new head of the Association of National Olympic Committees, led to a favorable outcome.
“Getting more than 15 votes from Northern Europe and France, with Paris planning to bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, was huge for us,” said a senior Tokyo bid committee member.
In the final analysis, even fears over radiation-contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, crippled by the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster, were of little consequence.
IOC members were clearly more concerned with Spain’s nagging economic recession and the risks reflected in its jobless rate which is over 25 percent. Gambling on Sochi for its first Winter Games in 2014 with a price tag of more than $50 billion for construction has caused IOC members to take pause, and problems with delays for Rio’s Games just three years away have been a constant headache.
Defining Tokyo’s bid this time was as problematic as it was for 2016, but in the end IOC members chose reliability over risks. Istanbul, which was making its fifth overall bid, was marred by doping problems as well as a civil war in neighboring Syria.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe probably allayed fears of the nuclear crisis with a spot-on answer after his speech in Tokyo’s final presentation, but it was likely the behind-the-scenes work of Tokyo’s lobbying outfit that paid off in spades.
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