Madrid, Istanbul had too many blemishes to win IOC's beauty pageant

The competition to host the 2020 Olympics wasn’t a beauty contest. It was a contest to see which candidate city could best conceal its blemishes.

Tokyo won that battle, with ease.

After all, what’s a minor nuclear leak today compared to an economy that is in tatters or a violent crackdowns against protesters?

“The other two were just too risky,” IOC member Dennis Oswald said of Istanbul and Madrid after the vote.

Risk was what the IOC wanted to avoid this time. It is dealing with enough of that already. Its gamble on Sochi has been repaid by overspending – to the tune of $50 billion – and international condemnation of Russia’s anti-gay legislation. Its bet on Rio and the promise of South America is being overshadowed by concerns about construction delays.

That’s why Tokyo fell just six votes short of winning the election outright in the first round, and it’s why the city won with a clear 60-36 majority in the second round.
Compared to its peers, Tokyo offered the best option for the Olympic brand, right now. It is a dependable city that has hosted the Games before. It has a strong infrastructure in place and $4.5 billion in the bank to build 10 new venues. And it has the world’s third-largest GDP.

Madrid remains mired in a recession. Its youth unemployment rate is 56 percent and many young people, who the IOC consider to be the future brand ambassadors of the Olympics, are leaving the country in search of work. And with 80 percent of its venues in place, it didn’t plan to do a lot of the construction and work that often drives interest in the Games in the seven years after a host city is named.

Istanbul, on the other hand, had plenty in its favor. It offered 400 million youth and a fast-growing economy. But all of that was offset by the problems it presented. Frankly, it looked way too similar to Rio. Like Rio, it is known for terrible congestion, and it has a restless youth population that was at the forefront of protests this summer. It also shares a border with warring Syria, which didn’t do it any favors.

It was easy to lose sight of Madrid and Istanbul’s blemishes in the lobby of the Hilton after the vote. Everyone from IOC members to sponsors to bid advisors mentioned a Spanish newspaper article that printed the names of IOC members who planned to vote for Madrid. The story, they said, irritated enough voters to cost Madrid a precious vote or two, causing it to lose in a runoff with Istanbul.

But Tokyo’s victory wasn’t because of a newspaper article in Spain. It nearly won the vote outright, and it did it by being exactly what the IOC wanted.

Safe, dependable, financially sound, and, relatively speaking, risk free.
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IOC, Olympics

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