Unless there are radical shifts during the next 11 months, political and financial, in Europe, in the Middle East and East Asia, the International Olympic Committee will face an election conundrum when they meet next September in Buenos Aires to determine the Olympic host city for 2020.
All the candidates—Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo—each eminently eligible, harbor elements which potentially jeopardize their prospects. In each case, circumstance could alter if not by 2013, then certainly over the subsequent seven years, yet the respective problems will provoke pause for thought.
Tokyo’s campaign, arguably the favorite having had the best technical bid for 2016 when Rio was the innovative though under-prepared choice, is currently wrought by deep-seated political crossed-swords with China, Taiwan and, separately, South Korea, over disputed ownership of the uninhabited Senkaku islands. Madrid is gripped by seemingly insoluble economic crisis of Euro debt. Istanbul has the embarrassment of refugees flooding across the border from Syria’s bloody civil war, the Arab Spring looking increasingly fragile.
Which way will the IOC turn: will they have the nerve to uphold principle and decide strictly on sporting merit? Yet ideology is inextricably conditioned by practical issues of finance, and political stability and security, as learned for the worse at, say, Athens ’04 and Munich ’72.
Tokyo finds itself in an unenviable position—uninvolved directly with the islands’ disputes, yet perceived supportive of the islands’ nationalization through Governor Shintaro Ishihara. The bid committee’s public relations attempt to back off, saying neither they nor the NOC “have scope to comment,” and remain focused on promoting the bid.
An experienced East Asian observer of the Olympic scene agrees that the dispute could impact on Japan’s economy: China boycotting Japanese products, Japan car manufacturers in China scaling down production, China tourism to Japan slackening. The suggestion is that Governor Ishihara should be removed from the bid’s profile.
Ishihara has attempted to draw C K Wu, Taiwan IOC member and president of international boxing into the row, suggesting his vote will be prejudiced against Tokyo. Wu immediately challenged this, asserting that his vote would open-mindedly depend on respective sporting merit. Moreover, it would be foolish for Asian votes on the increasingly powerful Pacific rim to push the Games westwards: for the Chinese to exert influence on the 15 African IOC members. Of the 110 voting members, 24 are from Asia.
Irrespective of China’s or Korea’s politics, the IOC knows—from the experience of Tokyo’s exceptional Games of 1964, of the Winter Games of Sapporo and Nagano and the athletics world championships of 1991—that Tokyo guarantees a well-organized event. Yet in the wake of the Tsunami and earthquake there could be sympathy… or anxiety. Riding a wave of euphoria following 38 medals in sixth place in London, Tokyo remains confidently optimistic.
Should IOC President Jacques Rogge clandestinely encourage a continuation of expansion, Istanbul’s chances must rise for their fifth bid— first Islamic hosts from the turbulent Middle East. Turkey is an anomaly: Muslim yet not demonstratively Muslim, Asian yet simultaneously European, a new model for secular democracy in an Islamic region, while having political equilibrium amid the fractious Arab Spring.
The hordes of Syrian refugees—distant from Istanbul though approaching six figures—is a problem, yet can be interpreted as humanitarian good neighbor. Turkey offers an example of stability and Olympic virtue, extending its influence in the region when being not necessarily U.S.-compliant.
Close relations with Egypt, for instance, were emphasized by the presence of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi as guest at the Congress, which has just re-elected Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Turkey’s global status continues to advance. The obstacle of their conflicting bid for hosting the simultaneous European Football Championships has eased, with the continuing intention by UEFA President Michel Platini to stage an experimental multi-host tournament.
Madrid, so close to winning 2012 in opposition to Paris and London at Singapore in 2005, and runners-up to Rio in the 2009 vote, find their third consecutive bid harassed by Spain’s obligation to make a 45-billion Euro cut in this year’s budget. In the wake of Rome’s withdrawal through financial instability, with the protest group Indignados staging “occupy” street closures, and with a popular blog Madrid me Mata (Madrid Kills Me) equally entrenched against hosting, the bid is under pressure. Can they survive plastic-bullet crowd control and hospital closures?
An economics professor, Ferran Brunet Cid, at Barcelona’s Autonomous University—home of an Olympics Studies Centre—is reported to claim that the Games are a worthy longterm investment: that Madrid will benefit from the publicity of bidding even if not winning. “You have to do things excellently, and that’s what is missing in Spain,” he has said.
While the IOC’s working group, prior to the short-list selection, stated that “careful attention must be paid to Spain’s economic outlook,” Juan Antonio Samaranch, son of the father and bid member, corroborates Brunet Cid’s view. “We have the funding we need from a large number of corporate sponsors continuing from the 2016 bid, so we’ve promised to reduce public costs. Our bid will be less flashy, our videos less dramatic, but good enough to explain what we offer. There are four points in our favor. Firstly, this third consecutive bid is the first to have been initiated by the government, and corporate sponsors receive a tax reduction. Secondly, when bidding for 2012 and 2016, Madrid was investing in the airport, in the main stadium, but now the infrastructure costs are already in hand, expenditure down to 1.2 billion Euros. Thirdly, while Barcelona and London, for example, were committed to city renovation, Madrid as no such need—the airport, the roads, the railways are already there. Lastly, we can run the Games at a low-cost level, we can be an example for future hosts. We are not being brave, the money is already there. At a dreadful financial time, we can bring a lot to our community, and take only a little.”
This article first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern, which is published in Lorsch, Germany by Karl-Heinz Huba. Mr. Huba can be reached via email at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission from Mr. Huba.