PtG Comment 10.09.2013

Tokyo 2020: In the safe hands of the archer

In a few years, Asia will be the center of gravity for the Olympic world. IOC chose Tokyo as the safe solution rather than the more visionary but also more risky bids on the future of sport.

Buenos Aires, 8 September.The prospect of the Olympic Games in a safe and compact environment, with trains that arrive on time, high-tech communication, and access to Asia’s four billion consumers probably settled the case for the 97 IOC members who on Saturday 7 September, with a convincing majority, assigned the 2020 Summer Olympic Games to Japan’s capital Tokyo.

Experienced politicians from the Japanese delegation and more than a few of the 600 accredited countrymen in the press tent erupted in cheers of celebration and tears of joy when IOC president Jacques Rogge, as one of his final acts in office, opened the envelope with the name of the winning city and read out the name “Tokyo”.

In the final round of voting, a total of 60 delegates preferred the purely Asian solution. Istanbul, which wanted to build bridges between two continents and convey a hope for peace in the Middle East, had to settle for 36 votes while one IOC member abstained from voting.

Madrid and Istanbul scored even after the first round and the vote had to be repeated in order to determine who would take last place. This gave supporters of Tokyo’s bid the privilege of being able to choose which city they were to meet in the finals. A kind of Olympic penalty kick – but should they kick the ball to the left or the right? The close outcome of the rematch – 49-45 in favour of Istanbul – revealed that also the IOC members were uncertain about the relative strength of Tokyo’s two rivals.

It was later announced that Tokyo from the start had taken the lead with 42 votes against 26 for each of the other two candidates. Tokyo had only needed an extra handful of votes in order to get the required majority of a 48-49 votes.

Few had suspected this head start during the final suspense-packed days, where the home straight was seen as close and unpredictable. Since all three bids had received fine reviews by the IOC evaluation committee, it was the candidates’ weaknesses and not their strengths that came into focus in the final stage. 

Tokyo seemed to be hit the worst by unexpected obstacles in the run up, first with the development of a radiation leak at the Fukushima plant in August and then by a powerful earthquake 600 km from Tokyo few days before the IOC congress in Buenos Aires.

At a press conference Friday, Tokyo’s spokesmen seemed strained optimistic and Tokyo governor Naoki Inose’s blood pressure seemed to rise dangerously as he presented the challenge from the accident-stricken nuclear power plant as “rumours, too many rumours” created by the media.Imperial charmIn addition to this came difficulties of a more permanent nature for the empire.

“The Japanese lack friends. The Chinese hate them, the Koreans hate them, and if they cannot even unite Asia, where will they get their votes?” sounded a sober comment from a veteran IOC-member the day before the vote in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Buenos Aires, which these days is the international sports aristocracy’s market place for the exchange of generous promises, warm embraces, encouraging pats on the back and occasionally credible assurances of support.

Under the glass arch in this lobby and in the adjacent, more discreet meeting rooms the Japanese held a trump card in the form of her imperial highness Princess Takamado, who is the first representative of the Japanese imperial family to ever engage in an Olympic election.

“You may be surprised to see me here and I am also surprised to be here”, she said to the IOC assembly Saturday morning, where she in fluent English and French gave a shot of prestige, elegance and charm to Tokyo’s official presentation.

This kind of surprise sits well with IOC members, many of whom are aristocrats or otherwise part of the very top of society, and it helped put a layer of emotion on top of the more cynical calculations of what the host cities can offer. In addition to this came several speakers’ emotional stories of how sport helped restore the spirit in the areas that were affected by earthquakes, a tsunami and a nuclear accident in March 2011.

Personal guarantee for radioactive security

As mentioned, the accident-stricken Fukushima plant’s location just 240 km from Tokyo was a subject of much speculation in the run-up to the decision. In order to reassure the IOC and give his support to Tokyo’s bid, the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had flown directly from the G20 meetings in Moscow to Buenos Aires.

Abe tried in his speech to brush the worries aside by briefly stating that the accident never had and never would affect Tokyo. Instead, he used his time on a personal appeal in which he let the memories wander back to when he as a 10-year-old was captivated by the Olympic opening ceremony in 1964 in Tokyo and when he as a young student in 1973 took up archery because it had been on the Olympic programme in Munich in 1972.

Only when the Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg requested further explanation of why Fukushima had no impact on Tokyo did Abe put his entire authority into making it clear that he would personally guarantee an effective cleanup of the accident-prone plant.

This guarantee was accepted by the IOC members, perhaps aided by the fact that Tokyo in every way has stressed the issue of safety in their bid. “Guaranteed delivery”, “safe pair of hands”, “trains on time” and “the world’s safest city” – as much as 30 million dollars in cash was lost last year and handed in to the Tokyo police.

At the same time Tokyo promised that an Olympics would be able to procure the largest live television audience ever in the densely populated East Asia and give the strongest economic and ideological boost for the Olympic movement among the four billion Asians in the region.

That the IOC has taken notice of the Asian market, where the consumers are becoming more and more affluent every day, the committee has now confirmed by placing five major events in the continent within just 12 years: Beijing 2008, Singapore 2010, Nanjing 2014, Pyeongchang 2018 and Tokyo 2020.IOC passes on risky visionsIn addition, the IOC is currently hesitant when it comes to engaging in visionary but risky projects like the one proposed by Istanbul, emphasizing values such as culture meetings among youths, building bridges between religions and visions for peace in the Middle East.

When Istanbul’s supporters repeatedly emphasized the Region’s need for Olympic understanding between people, they indirectly reminded the assembly of both the recent social unrest in Turkey and the risk that Turkey becomes more involved in the civil war in the neighboring Syria.

Turkey might be a tempting market in tremendous growth, but the infrastructure – the sports facilities, airports, roads and more – are not ready yet. In Rio, which was the IOC’s visionary choice four years ago, you now have serious delays in construction projects and unrest in the streets partly directed at the global sports events for which the public will pay large parts of the bill. Something similar is not difficult to imagine in Turkey.

A second experiment, Sochi 2014, is set to deliver on time, but the insane costs of more than 50 billion dollars – of which it is estimated that half may have been lost on bribes – stands as a bugaboo for the IOC management, who for more than a decade has talked about fighting “the gigantism” at the Olympic Games and making them accessible for smaller nations.

Whether Tokyo can really help cut down the Games into a manageable size is doubtful. The city has proven willing to dedicate a centrally located area for new Olympic arenas in addition to the area that was used in 1964. How many cities in the world can and will create space in its center for massive arenas – many of which will have limited utility when the Olympic flame is extinguished?

Tokyo trumped its insurance policy by emphasizing that the city has both a construction budget of around 5 billion dollars and untouched savings from the city’s earlier Olympic bids of around 4,5 billion dollars – the latter can be used for all kinds of purposes, just not for construction.Madrid with a crisis modelSuch a blank check stood in stark contrast to what the Spaniards – whose star has risen since the very successful presentation to the IOC in Lausanne in July – could offer.

The main message from the Spaniards was that “Madrid makes sense” in a time of economic world crisis. It would only cost 1,4 – 1,6 billion dollars to prepare the city for a Summer Olympics, as it already has around 80 percent of the necessary venues.

But thrift did not speak sufficiently to the hearts of the IOC members, and prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s attempt to speak out for the economic conditions in Spain could not convince the assembly that Madrid would be able to give world sport an economic boost in seven years.Madrid's dangerous friendsStill, Madrid was probably the second best bid and for that very reason had to be prevented from being a finalist. But the city could have challenged Tokyo much more if it had not been for an episode in the final sprint, which shows that your friends are sometimes more dangerous than your enemies.

All host cities have for several months been backed by eagerly cheering domestic media who under the pretext of national interest overrides normal requirements for journalistic independence and critical questioning of authorities. And it was probably with the best intentions that the pro-government Spanish newspaper "El Mundo" on Wednesday brought an illustration of the expected votes among the 100 IOC members.

Since IOC members are not allowed to comment publicly on their sympathies, such an outline can hardly be made without interacting with the campaign managers who have met the IOC members in private. And IOC members can have both good and less good reasons to rage about their confidential expressions being exhibited with name and picture.

Therefore, the Spanish IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., according to the German press agency DPA, immediately received a call from IOC president Jacques Rogge, who forced Samaranch Jr. to deny any knowledge of such lists. But the damage was done and undoubtedly cost Madrid important votes.Lost doping pointsBoth Madrid and Istanbul also lost important points on a topic to which they should have prepared a stronger answer.Although Istanbul has applied for the Summer Olympics as many as five times, Turkey's own IOC member Ugur Erdener had to explain, in a long and hesitant answer to a question from the audience about the 31 recent doping cases, that Turkey only created a national doping agency two years ago.Also the Spaniards were asked about doping with reference to the so-called "Operación Puerto" scandal, but they failed to sufficiently distance themselves from it, and referred to a brand new anti-doping legislation that has only just come into force. The Madrid 2020 campaign did not remove the impression that Spain is still one of Europe's centers of drug production and trafficking.Japan's IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda did not wait for questions from the audience, and even took the offensive in his presentation: Not one Japanese Olympic participant has ever tested positive in a doping control, he proclaimed proudly.Innovative thinking in the fight against match-fixing?In contrast, another threat to the integrity of sport was completely ignored by both the Tokyo campaign and IOC members, although it has its source in Asia:Placing the Olympics in the Japanese time zone is placing it in the center of the huge illegal gambling mafia that is rooted in several of the neighboring countries.So far, the Olympics have been spared from major scandals with fixed results, but it would be naive to believe that organised illegal gambling syndicates will not spend the next seven years preparing for the potential of high-tech deceptions, influence on Olympic athletes and other manipulations related to the Olympic live betting.Both the IOC and the Japanese Olympic organisers will have to relate much more actively to this threat than they do today, where the Olympic committee has taken a backseat role in the fight against match-fixing.With the expertise in advanced organisation, high-tech innovation and value-based management, which has now given Japan its second summer Olympics, there may even be hope that the Games in Tokyo can spur innovation in the fight against one of sport’s darkest sides?