BUENOS AIRES — Tokyo was selected Saturday to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in what was considered a safe rather than transformative choice in a time of political and economic uncertainty around the globe.
Hopes for Renewal in Japan, but Also a Host of Challenges (September 8, 2013)
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Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press
Members of the Tokyo 2020 delegation celebrated after Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympic Games during the 125th I.O.C. session in Buenos Aires.
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After Japan’s prime minister gave an emphatic assurance of safety regarding the country’s 2011 nuclear disaster and continuing concerns about radioactivity, Tokyo easily defeated Istanbul and Madrid to be named host of the Summer Games for a second time.
“When I heard the name Tokyo, I was so touched, overwhelmed,” said Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. “The joy was even greater than when I won my own election.”
The decision was met with elation in Japan, where it was seen as a vote of international support for the nation’s efforts to pull itself out of a long economic and political decline and to overcome the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident two years ago.
Winning the Games also appeared to affirm Abe’s efforts to restore Japan’s confidence at a time when it has appeared increasingly eclipsed by neighboring China.
“Japan has seemed to be overshadowed by the rise of China and other developing nations,” said Harumi Arima, an independent political analyst. “These Olympics will give Japanese a chance to feel reborn, to feel for themselves that Japan can still be vibrant.”
For the International Olympic Committee, environmental concerns in Japan appeared less urgent than the Syrian war on Turkey’s border, a harsh crackdown against antigovernment protesters recently in Istanbul and Spain’s economic recession and high unemployment.
The Olympic movement has also been buffeted by protests in Brazil over heavy government spending for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro. And there has been criticism of what the West considers antigay legislation passed in Russia ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort city Sochi, a Games that will come with a $50 billion price tag.
Amid such economic, political and human rights maelstroms, Tokyo was seen as a calm harbor. It won handily over Istanbul in the second round of voting, 60-36, in a secret ballot of Olympic delegates.
Tokyo presented its bid as a “safe pair of hands,” an appeal that clearly resonated with Olympic officials.
“This is something that appeals to me as a surgeon,” said Jacques Rogge, the president of the Olympic committee and a retired orthopedist from Belgium, who did not vote Saturday, as is tradition.
Tokyo hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics, and Japan has twice hosted the Winter Games, in Sapporo in 1972 and in Nagano in 1998. Japan also hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea and has repeatedly shown it can organize the world’s largest sporting events. It has a reserve fund worth $4.5 billion to build stadiums for the 2020 Games.
“The members wanted to have a choice between a bid addressing tradition and stability and another bid that was addressing new projects,” said Thomas Bach, an I.O.C. delegate from Germany who is expected to succeed Rogge as president. “In today’s political and economic situation, the clear tendency was toward tradition and stability.”
Kevan Gosper, an I.O.C. delegate from Australia, said Tokyo represented “a pretty secure option and demonstrates a shift in world activity and economics and sport toward Asia,” a reference to the 2008 Summer Games, held in Beijing, and the 2018 Winter Games, which will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Prince Albert, an I.O.C. delegate from Monaco, said Saturday’s result also might have represented a strategy by the Olympic committee, which is Eurocentric, to vote for an Asian host with an eye toward returning the Summer Games to Europe in 2024.
Richard W. Pound, an I.O.C. member from Montreal, said he would not rule out the chances of the United States, which is expected to bid on the 2024 Games and has not hosted a Summer Olympics since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The United States Olympic Committee and the I.O.C. recently settled a feud over sharing rights to television and sponsorship fees.
“If we are in kiss-and-make-up with the U.S., then why not?” Pound said of the potential American chances.