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2020 Summer Olympic Host Cities All on Shaky Legs


Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is apparently not all that concerned with the ongoing events in nearby Syria. He is leading Istanbul 2020′s delegation and heading to Buenos Aires, Argentina where he can genuflect before a real important international body—the International Olympic Committee—and beg for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Tokyo, who has been fervently bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics, is up against Spain and Turkey for the bid.

Erdoğan is going from a G20 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia to throw himself in front of these very important people. He is merely following in the footsteps of  England’s Tony Blair, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, America’s Barack Obama and Brazil’s  Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and others who have done the same.

The IOC, loaded with aristocrats and earls and barons, doesn’t accept second best. You send your leader or you get slammed.

It’s silly time for Prime Minister Erdoğan, Spain’s Prince Felipe of Asturias (the heir to the throne) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe  who will be in Argentina and will await the vote of International Olympic Committee delegates on Saturday, Sept. 7 after making last minute presentations. The IOC’s choices are very flawed but that shouldn’t bother the aristocrats who will make the selection.

The three countries have major problems. There were riots in May and June in Turkey protesting the Erdoğan regime. Spain’s unemployment level is reaching historic heights and radioactive material is still leaking out of the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. But all three countries are acting as if getting the 2020 Summer Olympics will be the panacea the country needs to rectify anything that ails the country.

The unrest in Turkey was sparked by a plan to develop a portion of Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park in May. The protests eventually spread nationwide with some of the aired grievances railing against Prime Minister Erdoğan’s policies which seemed to include a crackdown on the freedom of the press, the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, and the government sanctioned scaling back of secularism.

During the June protests, Prime Minister Erdoğan canceled his speech at the opening of the 2013 Mediterranean Games in Mersin. There were problems with ticket sales and distribution and eight Turkish weightlifters were accused of doping. The eight athletes are facing six-months to two-year bans from competition after failing drug tests. None of them were arrested for allegedly taking illegal or banned substances.

The Istanbul bid will be considered by the IOC delegation despite the protests and deaths of protesters and the other problems.

Meanwhile, Madrid is once again trying to host the Summer Olympics. The capital of Spain has lost out to other cities in the past including London for the 2012 Games and Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Games.

Spain’s financial problems are well documented: Unemployment is more than 25 percent, and children aren’t moving from their family homes until the age of 29 because of economic conditions. Child poverty is on the rise. Spain has bailed out the country’s banks. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has had questions swirl about his role in corruption allegations and the suggestion he received up to €42,000 annually from the slush fund, including when he was minister of public administrations and minister of education, between 1997 and 1999.

There were some small protests against Rajoy in Madrid during July.

Economists think it will be years before Spain’s unemployment rate will drop below 25 percent. The International Monetary Fund also announced that in the IMF’s estimation that Spain would continue to be in a recession until 2015.

There is one other problem, as well: Catalonian independence. That northeast region of Spain may eventually breakaway. Some Catalonians would like to separate from Spain and there could be a “referendum” type vote in that part of Spain on the question of separation in 2014.

Catalonians said yes to separation in two “referendums” in 2009 and 2010. The biggest city in Catalonia is Barcelona and, ironically enough, Spain is selling the 2020 Summer Olympic bid for Madrid based on the 1992 Barcelona Games, claiming that the 1992 Summer Olympics “legacy” is more tourism to Barcelona.

There is a slight chance Barcelona won’t be a part of Spain in 2020.

Then there is Japan. Japan’s economy has shown some modest growth recently but Japan is in an earthquake zone and that has become a major concern since the damage from one earthquake and tsunami caused a disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011.

The Japan government has struggled with clean-up following the earthquake and tsunami that caused massive damage to the plant, which is still spewing radioactive material.

The Games would take place in Tokyo three hours (225 kilometers or maybe 130 miles) away from the stricken power plant. Radiation levels near a water table storage area by the plant are 18 times higher than previously reported and that level of radiation could kill a person within four hours.

Japan’s Olympic bidding committee sees no problem with a stricken nuclear plant which is still spewing out radioactive material. The committee recent a statement saying that Tokyo’s radiation level is fine.

Prime Minister Abe is expected to also be in Argentina to get on one knee and beg the IOC delegates for the Games.

Much has been made of something called “legacy” which is a code word for what local taxpayers are spending for a two-week, oversized corporate bazaar that happens to feature some athletic events. The 2014 Sochi, Russia Olympics take place in February and already there is the slight overestimated cost of the event. Sochi organizers felt that it would cost $10 billion U.S. dollars. The estimate now is $50 billion.

The London organizers of the 2012 Summer Games won’t even release a financial statement on the Games but claim it was worth the cost for those living and paying for it in England, Scotland and Wales. A small section of the east end of London, which was grim and still showed the damage from German bombing in World War II, has been revitalized. But the price tag remains hidden because someone doesn’t want people to know just how expensive the party was.

The 2010 Vancouver Winter Games is in the same boat. The IOC’s legacy in British Columbia may also include the banning of free speech at public libraries. Local libraries could not invited speakers to the facilities if they criticized the Vancouver Olympics or the IOC or the local host committee. There is no real money account.

There will never be an official account of the Beijing Games. China won’t release the actual cost of the Games.

Then there is the 2004 Athens Games. It would be grossly unfair to pin the Greece financial meltdown on this event. But the 2004 Athens Olympics didn’t help the Greek economy and cost billions of Euros. If there is any thought that the Olympics is an economic generator for any host city, a review of Athens is must-read for any politician who has illusions of grandeur in thinking that hosting an Olympics is worth the effort and expenditure.

Salt Lake City local businesses saw a downturn in business during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Australian is still paying for venues that have not been used since the 2000 Games. Montreal, Quebec and Canada finally finished paying down the debt of the 1976 Games in 2006.

There is nothing wrong with athletic competition. There is much wrong with the Olympics from the demand that local taxpayers pick up the cost of overruns in building venues to the constant surveillance and suspicion of athletes doping.

According to media reports, American skier Lindsay Vonn was drug-tested by the moral guardians of sport during a fashion award show at Lincoln Center in New York this past June. World class athletes have to sign a paper handing their rights to privacy away. The moral guardians closed one of the bathrooms at Lincoln Center (which may be more offensive to patrons using the various areas of the facility) for a brief time to drug test the skier.

This is sports today. Guilty of “cheating” — which really is breaking a law using controlled substances — until proven innocent.

The 2020 “winner” of the 2020 Games will be announced on Saturday. There will be a celebration in whatever country that “wins” the bid and then the realization will set in. The money abyss. The “losers” are winners in this case. Billions of dollars will be allocated elsewhere for better public use in those countries.

Evan Weiner, the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award winner, can be reached at evanjweiner@gmail.com. He has written several e-books on sports, including, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition,” which is available at www.bickley.com and Amazon.com.


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