JOHN GOODBODY: There is still all to play for in the bids for the 2020 Olympics
THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications
(SFC) How much does the report of the Evaluation Commission matter when the votes are finally cast for which city will stage the 2020 Olympic Games? What can one read into the examination of the credentials of Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul? What does history tell us about the way that the ballot will go when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meets on September 7?
Not always very much. One only has to look back to May 2004, when the Evaluation Commission ranked London third among the cities bidding for the 2012 Games, behind both Paris and Madrid, only for it to get the backing of the IOC members less than 14 months later.
Nevertheless, there are still issues in the Evaluation Commission’s detailed report which the IOC members will digest over the summer and may help to influence them, when they vote in Buenos Aires.
Tokyo, which last staged the Summer Games in 1964, remains the favourite. Praised particularly for its security, excellent existing infrastructure, short travel times for athletes and financial strength because of its flourishing economy and ‘hosting reserve fund’ of $4.5 billion, it emerges with its credentials enhanced.
However, there are still some areas on which it will have to work. Public support for the Games in Tokyo is 70 percent and 67 percent of the whole Japanese population, surprisingly less than for Istanbul, where it is 83 percent and 76 percent in the whole of Turkey. The report notes in relation to Tokyo: ”It would be important for communications efforts to commence immediately in order to develop the vision and ensure that the whole country could share in the excitement of the Games.”
There are also some concerns due to the “limited space” round some of the venues used for the 1964 Games, including the Budokan, where judo was introduced to the Olympic programme that year.
Istanbul, which has been consistently trying to get the Games for several years, is, of course, the northern neighbour of Syria, where the current conflict continues to provide disturbing images, the proximity of which is noted in the report. Large infrastructure projects have been under way for some time in the Turkish capital but there is concern about an increase in traffic growth.
Madrid has been battling to overcome the perception that its fragile economy makes staging the Games a hazardous concept for the IOC. The reports notes both that any organising committee could still face “some risks” because of the Spanish economy but also that Madrid 2020 and the Government say that the financial situation is improving. It states: ”the budget represents a reasonable estimate of the costs and revenues associated with hosting the Games and the Commission considers it to be achievable.”
Particular plus points of Madrid’s bid include “Bearing in mind the existing robust transport of Madrid.....the Commission believes Madrid is ready to provide a good transportation service to the different client groups, guaranteeing short transit times.” Many of the venues are already in use include the extensive exhibition centre in the north of the city, which can accommodate so many indoor sports.
The recent demonstrations in Istanbul have emphasised just how precarious a bid can be. If those were repeated at the time of the vote, Istanbul would be grievously affected. Although European IOC members like to see the Games in their own continent, some, such as the French, may well be looking ahead to 2024 and thinking that it would better to vote for Tokyo so as to allow Paris to run for 2024, given that successive Summer Games have not been staged in the same continent for more than 60 years.
With more than two months to go to the poll, there is still much to play for.
** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th 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.
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