Home International Olympics The 2020 Olympic PR Chess Match

The 2020 Olympic PR Chess Match


The three candidate cities for hosting 2020, Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo, are engaged in a rare triangular game of public relations chess. Each is offering an outstanding opportunity for the world of Olympic sport, yet each is trying to camouflage their various political, economic or domestic social handicaps. They are accomplished actors, you might say, in the dressing room with a bit of a cold, hoping that adroit application of greasepaint will present them spectacularly on stage in front of the International Olympic Committee.

And within this multi-million-dollar presentation exercise, the IOC has itself a fundamental dilemma: given that both Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 are creating a Games edifice from scratch, so to speak.  Plus, Sochi is threatened by regional political insurgency and by offensive Russian homophobic legislation, while Rio’s construction is alarmingly off schedule. So, which candidate should the IOC gamble as being the least risk-liable for 2020?

Consider them alphabetically.

Istanbul is bombarding media outlets almost by the hour with confident self-proclamations that will cost in total more than Beijing in 2008. The government has
guaranteed the investment since the 1990s, though as Woody Allen has observed: “Confidence is what you have before you see the problems.”

This week, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan made the first test train drive of the Marmaray sub-Bospheros rail tunnel, intended to ease a renowned Mediterranean traffic gridlock. While it is claimed historically to link two continents, in reality it is connecting one mass of Turks to another. At the rate of 75,000 people an hour in each direction it is as essential as London’s Underground.

Turkey’s planned Games are a mammoth, enviable development project by an ambitious, prosperous country, but question-marks hover. You have a long-term liberal nation destabilized by social protests against a mounting Islamic trend; and, more recently, a tide of positive drug tests among athletes of all ages. It’s hardly an Olympic bouquet.

Madrid’s bid is enigmatic: a ready-made compact complex of venues twice offered
previously, internationally experienced but bowed down by the burden of national debt, a potentially collapsing Euro, and a constant threat of disruptive strikes.

Yet it is emotionally held together by Crown Prince Felipe. Royalty intoxicates may IOC Members. His speech in Madrid’s presentation at Lausanne’s Extraordinary Session transformed the competition’s landscape, raising the prospect that, by default of the other two, Madrid could become the favorite. A Felipe encore in Buenos Aires could seal victory, if the Foreign Minister’s aggressive attitude regarding Gibraltar’s sovereignty does not alienate a dozen Commonwealth voters.

Madrid’s emotional element is what Tokyo lacks. Unquestionably it is the best, safest bet in existing venues, design, transport, administration and technology. Tokyo could snatch defeat from a victory all but forecast by the Evaluation Report, in the absence of tangible emotion. Casual bartalk still reflects Japan’s traditional formality, reliance on interpreters, which can make communication impersonal.

A hidden danger for Tokyo lies in the increasingly militaristic attitude of the present
government, which alarms east Asian neighbors, especially China. If Tokyo is to achieve the prize it would justifiably deserve, this will only happen by expressing the emotion in its bid that wins hearts rather than minds.

David Miller, who covered 22 Olympic Games and 14 World Cups, can be reached on Twitter @DavidOlympic. The above article was first appeared in The Sport Intern, a blog published by Karl-Heinz Huba in Lorsch, Germany.  This article is reprinted here with permission from the blog publisher.  Mr. Huba can be reached via email at ISMG@aol.com.


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