We’ve gone through the three finalist bids for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games ad nauseum. We’ve dissected the bids, the IOC’s reviews, and our thoughts on the pros and cons.
But we would be remiss to go without making some final observations, especially highlighting the matters that have crept up since the IOC reviewed their visits in early July.
The potential impacts of these Olympics reach well beyond 2020. If the 2020 Games end up in Tokyo, it will almost surely limit the 2024 Games to between a European or North American city. If the 2020 Games end up in Madrid or Istanbul, that would almost ensure that either an American, or a very strong Australian, bid would take the 2024 Games. For the first time in the history of the Summer Olympics, North America will have the longest continental drought without winning a hosting bid (aside from Africa, who has never hosted the summer Olympics, and doesn’t seem to be in a favorable position to do so anytime soon either).
Assuming nothing leaks out early, we should find out who will host just after 5:30 PM New York time on Saturday which city will next be ingrained in the swimming lexicon. The ceremonial signing of the contract in Buenos Aires will be followed by the ceremonial changing of the category name on SwimSwam.
Our predictions, followed by an explanation:
Tokyo: 45% chance
Madrid: 40% chance
Istanbul: 15% chance
Tokyo has a great legacy from the 1964 Games, which left a long-lasting impact that the IOC always seeks (or claims to seek) in Olympic hosts. However, they’ve already been rebuked once for going too extravagant in their offer to cover cargo costs for National Olympic Committees, and been rebuked. This could be a sign that Tokyo in the new millennium is looking to spend, and might weigh on minds of voters that the Japanese will not be as long-looking. They are, however, by far the strongest, and most consistent, of the three economies, meaning that the financial woes hitting the 2014 and 2016 Olympics at the moment shouldn’t be of any concern.
The issues with radiation leaks after a 2011 earthquake damaged a nuclear power plant have crept up again. Yes, these Olympics are 7 years away, by which time Japan will have probably found a solution to the problem, but the long-term environmental impact is an unknown, and the IOC doesn’t like unknowns. They were reminded of the environmental risk just this week, when Tokyo was hit by an earthquake that fell between 6.5 and 6.9 on the Richter scale.
The head of the Tokyo organizing committee said just this week that the Fukishima radiation leaks won’t be an issue for the bid. Just like the economic problems won’t be a problem for Madrid, and Syrian strife won’t be a problem for Turkey. Except that they will, whether the voters admit to it or not.
Tokyo’s Olympics will be expensive, but they will be spectacular; those Games would be a second back on the Asian continent in four tries, but this Asian continent is an obvious growth-target for the IOC and the world’s sporting communities in particular. The problem is that there seems to be heavy rivalry in the region, so it’s unlikely that Tokyo will receive strong support from their regional neighbors.
They will, however, receive strong internal support. If you believe the pollsters, domestic support for these Olympics have skyrocketed to well over 90% in the last few weeks, which would be somewhat comforting in an atmosphere where the Rio 2016 Olympics have the potential to be a huge flop as the population is already growing weary of them.
Madrid’s big issue is, and will continue to be, their economy. It’s been plugging along for awhile now. Keep in mind, though, that Madrid would have by far the least expensive bid, given that almost all of the venues already exist and are in sufficient Olympic condition. This means that, while Olympic Games aren’t always profitable, Madrid could legitimately come out with a lasting boost to their economy, especially given that Spain is already so heavily dependent on tourism.
We have talked much about the politics-behind-the-politics here, but remember that the IOC is very Eurocentric, and Spain’s economy is currently an emotional drag on a lot of European countries. This could work one of two ways: Spanish leaders might have lost a lot of influence within Europe, or the other European countries feel like the Olympic investment will legitimately pay off. If Madrid wins, see that as an indication that the IOC expects it to be a large economic boost, just like the 1992 Games were in nearby Barcelona.
Several leaks have come out in the last week saying that they expect Madrid is actually the favorite. The vote will not be taken until Saturday, so consider that leak an insider’s opinion and nothing more.
Istanbul is just a massive, sprawling city, that provides a really unique geographical location that could be interesting to the IOC. It lies on the border between Asia and Europe, and as a gateway to the Middle East: a region the IOC would desparately like to see become more heavily involved in the Olympic movement.
Sectarian strife is probably not a large issue, though it won’t be ignored either. Turkey is sort of a stabilizing, transitory force (remember that Turkey is, by law, quite a specifically-secular country, even with a majority of the population being Muslim.
There is already a huge infrastructure boom going on in Istanbul, with a massive new rail tunnel going under the Bosphorus that separates the two halves of the city, and a new gigantic airport being built.
The cost is a big concern, though, already being projected at $20 million over budget. They’ve also been hit by recent protests, similar to what we’re seeing in Rio right now. Would Istanbulites be more receptive to their parks being paved over for soccer stadiums and swimming arenas than shopping malls? Probably more receptive, but that all falls in degrees collectively.
Istanbul would probably be the least expensive visiting city of the three, with four-star hotel room prices in Istanbul running the same as two-star hotel rooms in Tokyo.
Istanbul also seems to have the least momentum behind its movement. Their sporting history is not great, certainly nothing compared to its two rivals, and therefore they don’t seem to have a huge footprint on the IOC membership.
Istanbul is the only of the three host cities that I have been to personally, an Olympics in Istanbul would definitely have a different feel than those in London, and would perhaps really be quite similar to Rio in 2016. The history in Istanbul is unmatched by its two competitors (though, it would be foolish to say that any city that becomes a finalist for the Olympics doesn’t have a rich history). This is not a ‘safe’ choice, though, and after a bit of a gamble in 2016, Istanbul is a long shot.