AP and Reuters
BUENOS AIRES — The International Olympic Committee went for a familiar, trusted host, selecting Tokyo for the 2020 Games and signaling that playing it safe was preferable to more risky picks like Sochi and Rio.
With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reassuring IOC members on the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Tokyo defeated Istanbul 60-36 Saturday in the final round of secret voting. Madrid was eliminated earlier after an initial tie with Istanbul.
Tokyo, which hosted the 1964 Olympics, billed itself as the “safe pair of hands” at a time of global political and economic turmoil — a message that clearly resonated with the IOC.
With Madrid’s bid dogged by questions over Spain’s economic crisis and Istanbul handicapped by political unrest and the civil war in neighboring Syria, Tokyo offered the fewest risks.
“The certainty was a crucial factor — the certainty that they could deliver,” IOC Vice President Craig Reedie of Britain said.
“The real Games have only just started for Tokyo,” Abe said during a press conference in Buenos Aires, where the IOC meeting was held. “Let us make … efforts to win the trust and confidence of people in the world so that the decision to choose Tokyo today will be remembered as the right one,” he added, flanked by the Argentine and Japanese flags. The choice of Tokyo bucked the IOC’s recent trend of taking chances on host cities — Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Games, Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics and Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Games.
Preparations for Sochi have been overshadowed by cost overruns, a record US$51 billion budget, security worries and an international outcry over Russia’s anti-gay legislation. There are mounting concerns among the IOC over construction delays in Rio.
The IOC’s desire for a reliable, dependable host in 2020 was a crucial factor for Tokyo.
“For better or worse, we picked Sochi followed by Rio followed by Pyeongchang,” Canadian member Dick Pound said. “Maybe we need to say, ‘All right, whether it’s the most exciting city in the world or not, they will deliver.”’
Tokyo had been on the defensive in the final days of the campaign because of mounting concerns over the leak of radioactive water from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.