In the end, economics won.
Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Olympics on Saturday, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge announced on Saturday at 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires. (The IOC, on par with the United Nations in its own mind, loves officialdom like “125th IOC Session” as much as gold medals). As these things go, the voting was somewhat dramatic. Tokyo cruised into the finals after the first round of voting but Istanbul and Madrid tied for second, requiring a runoff between those two cities. Istanbul prevailed in the tiebreaker, 49-45. First out, Madrid, a country that pitched the Olympics as stimulus for a country with over 25% unemployment. Instead, the instability scared off voters: Spain will have to look elsewhere for a boost
So it came down to Tokyo and Istanbul. Economic power — Japan is the third largest economy in the world — vs. history, as the Olympics have never been held in a predominately Muslim country. Tokyo was the bookmakers favorite in many circles, as Tokyo is, well, Tokyo. The infrastructure and transportation system is in place. After the 2012 Olympics went to London, and the 2016 Games went to history — Rio will hold the first-ever Olympics in South America — the voters went back to a London again. Tokyo got 60 votes in the final round, Istanbul 36.
For bid cities, the loss is always bitter: millions spent on organizing and lobbying for naught (though given how cost overruns and “white elephant” facilities tend to drain Olympic cities in the long-run, Madrid and Istanbul may be today’s victors). These defeats, however, were particularly difficult: Madrid has bid for the last three summer Olympics. Istanbul bid for the fifth time.
Tokyo, which last hosted the Olympics in 1964, overcame its biggest obstacle; fears about the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and its leak of radioactive water after the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. “There are no health related problems until now, nor will there be in the future,” Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said in his presentation on Saturday. Abe, Turkey prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, and Mariano Majoy of Spain all flew straight from the G-20 summit in Russia to make their cases. “I make the statement to you in the most emphatic and unequivocal way,” Abe said.
After Rogge flashed the winning card, the Japanese delegation in the Buenos Aires ballroom — most wearing matching gray suits — erupted in hollers, flag-waves, and more than a few tears. Tokyo residents got a sunrise surprise: it was around 5:20 a.m. local time. A party begins in Japan, but the hangover will end soon. The countdown to 2020 starts now.