POSTED: August 24th 2011

JOHN GOODBODY: Disappointment for no South African bid for the 2020 summer Olympics

Durban skyline at night / South African Tourism
Durban skyline at night / South African Tourism

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

The decision of South Africa not to bid for the 2020 Olympics is understandable but is still a disappointment  for those wanting to see the African continent at last host the Summer Games.

After staging the 2010 FIFA World Cup to considerable success, many people felt that it would now feel  justified in staging the even-bigger and certainly more expensive enterprise of the Olympics.

Every other area of the world will have held the Olympics at least once by 2020 and South Africa is the only country on its continent capable, at this stage, of even contemplating hosting the Games.

In May, the South African cabinet said there were greater social priorities on which to spend money, an absolutely justified decision.

However, leading figures such as Fikile Mbalula, the Sports Minister, and Sam Ramsamy, the long-serving and honourable chairman of the nation’s Olympic Committee, have had to accept the inevitable before the deadline for candidate cities of September 1.

The sensible strategy would be to host the Commonwealth Games, an event which no African country has yet put on and depending on how that goes, consider a subsequent bid for the Olympics.

Durban, which earlier this year hosted a session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was the proposed city for 2020 and building some facilities there for the Commonwealth Games would provide the basis for the Olympics.

The decision by South Africa leaves four cities in the running for 2020: Istanbul, Madrid, Rome and Tokyo, with Doha yet to decide  whether to bid. The big absentee is a city in the United States.

However, after the stinging rebuke in 2009, when Chicago went out in the first round despite the presence of Barack Obama, the Americans are reluctant to subject themselves to a similar humiliation.

Seven cities were interested but the United States Olympic Committee has refused to endorse a bid. There is much wooing of IOC members before an American city tries again.

Three European cities will split the vote among the IOC members from that continent. Istanbul has been a perennial candidate. Rome last staged the Games in 1960, while Madrid has never been a host city, although if it had got through in the final round of voting against London in 2005, it might well have won (and that was a desperately close contest). 

One city not bidding is Paris, which lost out to London for 2012, but the wounds are still sore after three times failing to get the Games since 1986.

However, it might try again in 2024, the centenary of ‘The Chariots of Fire’ Games, the last time it was host.

Given the fact that it is the birthplace of the IOC, has many facilities already in place and already possesses an excellent infrastructure, it surely deserves the Games in the next 20 years.

However, this will depend on Tokyo or Doha, if it bids, being awarded 2020 as the IOC  will not give the Summer Games to the same continent for two successive celebrations.

At the moment, the front-runners appear to be Madrid, which had an excellent plan for 2012 and where there is a superb exhibition complex in the north of the city, capable of putting on many of the indoor  sports, and Tokyo, where the 1964 Games were held to much acclaim.

However, the field seems rather limited and that must be particularly disappointing for the IOC after the excitement of the two previous elections. A South African city would certainly have added some spice.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2008 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 11th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · 2020 Olympics · John Goodbody · IOC · Olympic bidding

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