Golden

09.07.13

How Tokyo Won Its Bid for the Olympics

Japan faced low public support and bad press over Fukushima, but still managed to beat Istanbul—a potentially historic choice—for the 2020 Olympics. Brandy Zadrozny on how they did it.

It was 5:20 a.m. in Tokyo when the International Olympic Committee announced that the city had won its two-year, multimillion-dollar campaign to host the 2020 Games.

Most people there will discover the news when they wake up. But some 200 people, mostly those in the government who had worked to bring the games there but also sporting enthusiasts, stayed up together through the night waiting for the news, according the AFP.

“As in every competition however, there can only be one winner,” IOC President Jacques Rogge said at the voting site in Buenos Aires before opening a sealed envelope that named Tokyo as the host. Japanese committee members cried, hugged, and waved miniature flags in the hall.  

Meanwhile, it was 11:00 p.m. in Istanbul, the city Tokyo defeated in the final round. (Madrid was knocked out first.) Crowds, some wearing “Istanbul 2020” shirts, had gathered in cafes and at public televisions to watch the unfortunate results. In losing the bid, its fifth, Turkey also lost the opportunity to become the first predominantly Muslim country to host the Olympics—a defeat likely more stinging due to the fact that Tokyo positioned itself as the safe, reliable choice. 

To be fair, Tokyo had a strong case to make in that regard. The city has hosted the Summer Olympics before, in 1964, and it already has much of the infrastructure that would be needed to host the world’s most important sporting event. That’s likely why the Japanese capital was favored by oddsmakers for some time.

 

Still, Tokyo had to overcome to main obstacles. For one, support there for the games has been much lower than in the other contending cities. In fact, a lack of public enthusiasm actually ended Tokoyo’s 2016 bid. Perhaps they’ve heard of The Olympic Curse.

There are also lingering concerns over the 2011 Fukishima nuclear disaster, which continues to make news for non-stop leaks and a planned ice wall to contain the hundreds of tons of radioactive water.

Japan’s committee president, Tsunekazu Takeda downplayed Fukushima during his presentation. “Vote for Tokyo and you vote for guaranteed delivery,” he said. "Let me assure you the situation is under control," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said to the IOC. "It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."  

Having the games in Turkey would have sent “a message to our whole region, which so needs peace,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the committee during a 45-minute presentation before the vote. But in the end, the message of unity wasn’t enough to sway the committee.

Not only does Turkey’s largest city have the least amount of infrastructure in place and therefore will have to spend the most—around $19 billion—to finance the games, but as its bid motto “Bridge Together” suggested, the nation rests near a hotbed of instability. Turkey is now home to almost half a million Syrian refugees, and the host city’s own security was questioned after a violent crackdown on protestors in Taksim Square earlier this year.

Madrid, eliminated in the first round of voting, took the decision in a stoic fashion. People gathered in the streets of the Spanish capital reacted silently, according to AFP reports, some releasing the red balloons they were holding into the sky.