Sport

Tokyo 2020 Olympics win could help rejuvenate Japan

By Antoinette Muller 9 September 2013

Tokyo beat off competition from Madrid and Istanbul to host the 2020 Olympic Games. While all cities had their issues, Tokyo managed to cover their blemishes most adequately. It’s a chance for the country to catapult itself to the forefront of growth in Asia, and to be reborn, after it was downtrodden by natural and man-made disasters in 2011. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Tokyo won their bid to host the 2020 summer Olympics after a head-to-head vote against Istanbul. Japan’s Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a charismatic plea to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in a last-ditch attempt as he promised the Fukushima nuclear plant was under control.

According to an insider, Tokyo triumphed due to most effectively covering its problems. Madrid’s struggling economy and Turkey’s anti-government protests as well as issues on the Syrian border all made them less likely choices for the Games. The Japanese city won by 60 votes compared to Istanbul’s 36 after Madrid was eliminated in the first round of voting. Madrid and Istanbul were initially deadlocked and after a revote, it was Madrid who was eliminated first.

Abe left a Group of 20 summit in Russia to make his pitch to the IOC voting committee in Argentina and promised the members that the concerns about the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant 140 miles (230 km) from Tokyo were unfounded.

“It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo. There are no health-related problems until now, and nor will there be in the future – I make the statement to you in the most emphatic and unequivocal way,” said Abe.

There have been issues with the plant leaking tonnes of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean with radiation spiking, but the government will spend around half a billion dollars to address the issue.

Tokyo focused on solid finances and a good track record of delivering on its promises.

Olympic President Jacques Rogge, who stands down from his role of 12 years on Tuesday, believed that the Games were “in safe hands”.

With Asia increasingly focusing on consumer-driven economics, Tokyo’s win will capitalise on the potential of the Asian continent. After two years of lobbying and a tens of millions of dollars spent on the bidding, Abe was, understandably, thrilled.

The Prime Minister said that he was happier than when he was elected and said that with the “moment of truth” now beckoning, the city would do its best to live up to all expectations.

It was Istanbul’s fifth unsuccessful bid in the last six votes to host a summer Olympics. With its blend between East and West the city punted itself as the crossroads capital and a vehicle to try to foster peace in the Middle East. However, conflict in Syria, unrest towards government and athletic doping scandals blighted Turkey’s bid.

The decision was described as new against old and, in the end, it was a more traditional candidate who triumphed.

Tokyo will use existing venues and its non-Games budget sits at around $4.4 billion, compared with $3.4 billion for the actual event, with some $4.5 billion already in the bank.

Tokyo had previously bid for the Olympics and was always lauded for its practicality, but could never quite manage the endearing legacy aspect which launched London to host-city stardom in 2012.

Abe viewed the trust the IOC put in the city as a way to repay the world the world for all the assistance which was offered to them during the natural disaster which it them in 2011.

”Sport can mobilise people. That is the power shown exactly after the tsunami,” he said.

”The situation was very tough but lots of athletes [including US sprint legend Carl Lewis] came to Japan and played with the kids and everybody had hope and courage. During the presentation I [talked] about the boy I saw with a football given to him by one of these athletes. That football is not a gift. It is for the future. That is the power of sports. Japan needs hope and dreams and we are now looking forward to dreams and hopes. We will pay the debt of support we owe the world from the time of the tsunami.”

Princess Takamado, a Cambridge-educated member of the royal family, also made a surprise appearance during Tokyo’s bid. She rarely leaves the country due to protocol, but was joined by Paralympic long jumper Mami Sato. Sato’s hometown was hit by the tsunami and the athlete spoke of the power of sport.

Sato lost her leg to cancer when she was 19 and spoke about 200 athletes visiting the area and thousands of children.

“What we have seen is the impact of the Olympic values as never before in Japan. And what the country has witnessed is that those precious values – excellence, friendship and respect – can be so much more than just words,” she said.

Tokyo was the favourite city from the onset and despite its issues, it remains the most logical. While the romance of Istanbul was an attractive option and Madrid’s bid promised to be done “on the cheap”, Tokyo blends modern technology with practicality.

Tokyo hosted the Games before, in 1964, and that was considered as an important part of its post-war rebirth. Just like those Games, the 2020 edition will serve as a another rebirth for the country. DM

Photo: A pedestrian looks at pictures of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, part of a photo exhibition inside the Tokyo train station building September 8, 2013. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised Tokyo’s triumphant bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games as an opportunity to showcase Japan’s resurgence after a devastating earthquake, but stressed the city must work to win the world’s trust. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

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