RIO DE JANEIRO – Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympics, overcoming apathy by the Japanese public and a recent nuclear accident to get the Summer Games for the second time.
The Japanese capital was the bookmakers’ favorite leading into this weekend’s meeting of International Olympic Committee members in Buenos Aires, and defeated Madrid and Istanbul in a vote Saturday by the IOC. Madrid was eliminated in a first round of voting after tying for second place with Istanbul, setting up the final vote won by Tokyo.
The winning bid to stage sports’ biggest event came on the city’s second straight attempt. While a lack of public enthusiasm doomed its bid for the 2016 Olympics, a March survey found 70 percent of Tokyo residents were in support this time. The government also billed the Olympics as a way to help Japan recover from a 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
Parliament passed two motions in favor of the bid and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe broke into song during a March presentation to the IOC’s evaluation panel in which he said hosting the event was a long-held dream.
“Choose Tokyo today and you choose a nation that is a passionate, proud, and a strong believer in the Olympic movement,” Abe said in today’s final presentation. He was joined on stage by Princess Takamado, the first member of the Japanese Imperial family to address the IOC.
The Japanese capital, now festooned with the bid’s cherry- blossom logo, has emphasized merits such as financial stability, safety, cleanliness and convenience. Tokyo has put aside 408.8 billion yen ($4.1 billion) for building and upgrading facilities. Tokyo’s flagship project is the futuristic 80,000- seat National Stadium designed by London-based Pritzker Prize- winner Zaha Hadid, which will be built on the site of the 1964 Tokyo Games, an event seen as re-launching Japan on the world stage after World War II.
The bids of Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul all faced questions. Spain’s unemployment rate hovers above 25 percent, while Istanbul had to deal with antigovernment street riots and the suspension of 31 athletes for doping.
Tokyo’s biggest issue was pollution from the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was severely damaged by an earthquake and tsunami two years ago. More than 300 tons of contaminated water has leaked from the site, and Abe was asked by IOC member Gerhard Heiberg after the final presentation to clarify the country’s response. The prime minister said he’d take “drastic resolutions” to stop the leaks. Earlier this week, the government announced plans to spend more than $470 million to tackle the problem.
The leaders of Spain and Japan, who like Abe flew directly to Buenos Aires from the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, also made speeches today. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, promoted a message of peace, while Spain’s Mariano Rajoy said his country’s economy was improving and could host the 2020 Games “without any risk to the Olympic movement whatsoever.”
The most recent games, in London last year, provided a 9.9 billion-pound ($15 billion) boost to business from Olympic- related activities, according to estimates in a July 19 report by U.K. Trade & Investment, the government’s trade-promotion agency.
The next summer Olympics in Rio are scheduled for Aug. 5-21, 2016.