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Four years ago, the International Olympic Committee met in Copenhagen, Denmark, and awarded Rio de Janeiro the 2016 Olympics. The pick was a continuation of the IOC’s push to take the Olympics to new territories and engage emerging economies.
In recent years, it has selected China for 2008, Russia for 2014 and Brazil for 2016. So when the IOC gathers this week in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to select the host city for the 2020 Summer Games, observers will be watching to see if that trend continues.
Istanbul touts the ability to bring together two continents for the Games.
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“The IOC has safe and imaginative choices,” said George Hirthler, a bid consultant who worked on Rome’s bid for the 2020 Games, which the city withdrew. “Both Tokyo and Madrid had technically excellent bids, and the level of risk in both those bids is low. Istanbul offers a bridge to a whole new world for the IOC.”
The 2020 host city, which will be voted on Saturday, will be the last major decision the organization makes during the 12-year leadership of IOC President Jacques Rogge. It will contribute a great deal to his legacy, either cementing or distorting the perception that he led the organization’s global expansion. It also will determine whether the organization is concerned enough about the rising costs of hosting an Olympics to do something about it, or merely concerned enough to talk about the issue in the press.
During Rogge’s time on the job, the IOC has expressed concern about the rising costs of the Games, but it’s done little to reverse that trend. China spent more than $40 billion on the Beijing Games, the United Kingdom spent more than $14 billion on London’s Olympics and Russia is spending more than $50 billion on the upcoming Sochi Games.
If the IOC selects Istanbul, which has a $19 billion infrastructure plan, the spending binge would continue. If it selects Madrid, which plans to use 28 existing venues and spend $1.9 billion, or Tokyo, which plans to use 15 existing venues and spend $4.9 billion, the spending would be curtailed for at least one Summer Games.
“The costs have been astronomical [at recent Olympics], and the challenge for everyone is: At what point do we stop trying to outdo each other?” said Davis Butler, founder of the sports marketing agency Encompass International and a former IOC executive. “It’s not sustainable.”
The IOC’s evaluation report on the 2020 bid cities, which was completed in April, evaluated everything from venue plans and public support to transportation plans and legacy.
The Istanbul bid is built around the slogan “Bridge Together.” It calls for a cluster of venues that straddle both Asia and Europe and touts the ability to bring those two continents together in one celebration. It also promotes the ability to bring the Games to the first Muslim country and imprint the importance of sport on the youth of Turkey. Forty-two percent of the country’s population is under the age of 25.
But the IOC raised some concerns about the transportation plan, saying traffic could make travel times to some venues more than 30 minutes from the Olympic Village. It also questioned security and noted the proximity of bordering Syria, which is in civil war, and the threat posed by the Kurdish nationalist group known as the PKK, which bombed Turkish embassies and other interests throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
The report preceded the Turkish government’s violent crackdown on protesters that began in late May. The protests came around the same time that Brazilians were protesting their government’s spending on the World Cup and Olympics. The parallels between the two developing democracies could unsettle the IOC, but Istanbul bid leaders aren’t concerned.
Tokyo has big plans, and plenty of cash on hand for infrastructure.
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Tokyo’s bid is built around the theme “Discover Tomorrow.” The city last hosted the Games in 1964, and it wants to build a new 80,000-seat stadium in the same location as the ’64 stadium for the 2020 Olympics. The city also plans to build a waterfront athletes’ village and boasts public transportation to 27 of its 32 venues, all of which will be less then five miles from the village. Most importantly, though, the city government has a $4.5 billion cash reserve to cover infrastructure costs.
The IOC evaluation report questioned the Tokyo bid’s plan to provide shuttle bus access to five venues, but the larger question is whether the IOC will want to return to Asia in 2020 after taking the Winter Games to Korea in 2018. There’s also the question of whether a recent nuclear leak from Japan’s Fukushima power plant, which suffered several meltdowns after the 2011 earthquake, will give IOC voters pause.
Madrid remains the sentimental choice because of late IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.
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In addition to relying on IOC members’ fondness for Samaranch, organizers of Madrid’s bid for 2020 will highlight the city’s plan to use 28 existing venues and limit total spending to $1.9 billion.
The biggest obstacle could be the Spanish economy, which has been in recession since 2008, but the IOC evaluation commission report said it doesn’t believe the economy will be an issue in 2020. The chief concern it raised was the possibility of a security issue as a result of the Basque separatists movement of northern Spain, which has attacked the Spanish government hundreds of times in the last 45 years.
All three options carry risk. The question will be how much risk the IOC can tolerate.
“There is only so much risk tolerance for the IOC and it’s almost as if the pendulum is swinging to a place where people want less risk,” Butler said. “But there are so many factors that make [an IOC vote] unpredictable.”
A quick look at the three cities bidding to host the 2020 Summer Games
■ Population: 11.3 million
■ Projected 2020 population: 13.8 million
■ Major sporting events: 2011-12 Euroleague Final Four, 2012 IAAF World Indoor Championships, 2012 FINA World Swimming Championships, 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women, TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships
■ Pros: Would be the first Muslim host city; population includes 30 million people in the country under the age of 25; includes venues in Asia and Europe
■ Cons: Traffic; security concerns; recent protests; $19 billion in infrastructure costs (which are planned regardless of the Olympics)
■ Population: 36.9 million
■ Projected 2020 population: 38.7 million
■ Major sporting events: 2012 Asian Water Polo Championships, 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, 2012 FITA Archery World Cup Final, ATP Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, WTA HP Open, WTA Toray Pan Pacific Open, 2013 Yonex Open Japan Badminton Championships, 2013-14 HSBC Sevens World Series, 2019 Rugby World Cup
■ Pros: Features a compact venue plan; $4.5 billion cash on hand for infrastructure; public transportation to 27 of 32 venues
■ Cons: Transportation issues for five venues; recent nuclear leaks from Fukushima power plant; the Olympics will be in Korea in 2018, requiring a return trip to Asia in 2020
■ Population: 6.4 million
■ Projected 2020 population: 7.8 million
■ Major sporting events: Madrid Marathon, ATP/WTA Mutua Madrid Open, San Silvestre Vallecana road race, 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup
■ Pros: Would use 28 existing venues; features a low-cost plan of $1.9 billion; bid was supported by late IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch
■ Cons: The Spanish economy remains in recession; Basque separatists, which currently have a cease fire but bombed trains in Madrid as recently as 2004
— Compiled by Tripp Mickle and David Broughton
Wrestling, softball/baseball and squash are jockeying to be the lone sport added to the program for the 2020 Summer Olympics, a vote with varying degrees of urgency in terms of the future for each sport.
The selection will be made Sunday by members of the International Olympic Committee. A spot in the Olympics guarantees a sport international broadcast exposure and credibility that can be used to attract new participants and business partners. It also guarantees a minimum of $14 million every four years for the international federation behind the sport.
The federation (FILA) ousted its longtime president and replaced him with Serbian Nenad Lalovic. It simplified its competition
Former U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Jim Scherr, who’s a member of the wrestling federation’s board, hopes those changes and the federation’s lobbying this year will be
Wrestling, squash, and baseball and softball are all trying to return to the games, but only one sport will be added for 2020.
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“Wrestling’s leadership was not active within the Olympic family before,” Scherr said. “It didn’t have much of a voice. It didn’t explain well the reach and strength of wrestling, nor did it showcase the existing assets of wrestling. Beyond that, the issues wrestling has that they can improve on: more transparency and efficiency in governance, adding women’s athletes, and issues in the field of play like making rules more understandable. We’ve done that.”
Softball and baseball were dropped from the Olympics after the 2008 Beijing Games. The sports’ federations — the International Softball Federation and the International Baseball Federation — combined last year and are putting forward a joint bid. The proposal calls for one venue, which would reduce construction costs for host cities, and a competition plan that would see baseball played in the first week and softball in the second week of the Games.
The bid should benefit from Major League Baseball’s new approach to combating performance-enhancing drugs, which was an issue in 2008. It has stepped up suspensions and testing of players since then, and any anti-doping measures will go a long way with an IOC that wants to eradicate PEDs from sports.
But the IOC wants the best in the world to participate in the Games, and though Commissioner Bud Selig is supporting baseball’s bid, he has said that Major League Baseball won’t send players to the Olympics.
The federation’s leadership still feels it has a strong case to join the 2020 Games and plans to assure the IOC that it will develop a plan prior to the Olympics that allows some pros to play.
“By being combined, we’ve got a very strong message that we can pass on to the IOC, especially economically,” said Don Porter, co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation. “We have huge numbers of participants, television, corporate sponsors, media attention. It makes for a real strong message.”
Squash is bidding to join the Olympics for the third time. The sport, which is played in 185 countries, would add a men’s and women’s tournament with 32 players each. The sport plans to have glass courts and could share a venue with badminton, which would minimize the costs of adding it to an Olympic program.
Critics have questioned whether the Olympics needs to add another racket sport to a list that includes badminton, tennis and table tennis. But the federation dismissed that notion during the bid process and touted the sport’s ability to deliver medals to new countries by highlighting a female world champion from Malaysia and a male from Egypt.