Cities to make final pitches ahead of vote for 2020 Olympic Games

By Stephen Wilson, AP

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina–With major risks surrounding each bid, the three cities vying for the 2020 Olympics are set to make their final pitches in a tight race that could be decided by just a few votes.

Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo will make 45-minute presentations Saturday morning ahead of the vote later in the day by the International Olympic Committee.

Leading the delegations will be the prime ministers of all three countries. Shinzo Abe of Japan, Mariano Rajoy of Spain and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey all flew to Buenos Aires straight from the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“It’s certainly an open race,” South African IOC member Sam Ramsamy said Friday. “They all have positive and negative points. The final presentations will be crucial.”

Picking the city with the least risks shapes up as the challenge for the IOC.

Tokyo has been seen as a slight favorite, but its status has been put into question by concerns over the leak of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima plant.

Madrid, once counted out because of Spain’s financial troubles, has generated the most recent buzz and momentum and could be poised for an upset win.

Istanbul, dogged by the war in neighboring Syria and possible Western military strikes against Bashar Assad’s regime, looks like the outsider.

London bookmakers have been taking a rush of bets on Madrid, whose odds have been slashed from 4-1 a week ago to 5-4. Tokyo remains the betting favorite, though its odds have shortened to 5-6. Istanbul is listed at 6-1.

“There are all kinds of predictions, all kinds of bets but the only one numbers that matter are the ones from the votes on Saturday afternoon,” Madrid Mayor Ana Botella said.

IOC elections are extremely unpredictable as members vote by secret ballot and take different personal reasons into account. Some members are still undecided and will be waiting for the final 45-minute presentations before making up their mind.

If all IOC members are in attendance, 97 will be eligible to vote in the first round. With a majority required for victory, the process is likely to go two rounds. The city with the fewest votes is eliminated after the first round, setting up a final head-to-head ballot. Outgoing IOC President Jacques Rogge will open a sealed envelope to announce the winner.

All three are repeat bidders: Istanbul for a fifth time overall, Madrid for a third straight and Tokyo a second in a row.

Previous bid campaigns have been marked by overriding geographic or emotional factors. In 2009, the IOC awarded the 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro because of the Brazilian city’s push to take the games to South America for the first time.

There has been no feel-good theme this time as the campaign has been dominated by the negatives surrounding each bid: Syria, doping scandals and anti-government protests in Turkey; severe recession and 27 percent unemployment in Spain; and, most recently, the Fukushima leak in Japan.