The IOC has announced the three finalists for the 2020 Olympics, and after one stop in the West in 2016, we know already that they will be moving back to the Eastern Hemisphere.
The three finalists are Istanbul, Turkey; Madrid, Spain; and Tokyo, Japan. Since 1996, that will make 5-out-of-6 events lying East of the Prime Meridian. Let’s look at a quick breakdown of the three candidates, and the potential swimming facilities.
The two cities eliminated in the last round of cuts were Doha, Qatar – hosts of the 2014 World Cup, and Baku, Azerbaijan. Doha’s big issue was likely the extreme summer heat, and the prospect of a December summer Olympics. Baku is a former soviet city that is booming with oil wealth, but still has a long way to go before hosting an event of this magnitude. Having spent a summer in the city, I can personally attest to the rampant corruption in that country, as well as the unimaginable upgrades to infrastructure that would be required. There’s also a matter of an ongoing military conflict with neighboring Georgia that would cause some security concerns, as well as the country’s struggles with instituting democracy. But the history of the city is intriguingly brilliant, and from that perspective it would have been an awesome city to expose to the world
The final decision will be announced on September 7th, 2013 in Buenos Aires.
Istanbul, Turkey – Istanbul will host the World Short Course Championships later this year that will be inserted into the 22,500 seat Sinan Erdem Dome, which is Turkey’s largest multi-sport arena (expandable to as big as 22,500). The huge international metropolis is already a tourist hub, and with the eliminations of Doha, Qatar and Baku, Azerbaijan in the previous round, is the lone remaining country in the region that is exploding financially. The city would be a good representation of the global nature of the Olympics. It straddles the border between Europe and Asia. It is predominantly a Muslim country, but has very strict rules to ensure secularism. It has long been a crossroads of international trade (which is a title it retains to this day). It has a long and rich history that has taken it through a huge diversity of cultures in its past, and juxtaposes ancient religious buildings (the Hagia Sofia – which has been both a Mosque and a Christian church in its wild history) with Europe’s largest shopping mall. Istanbul is also the biggest of the three finalists, with 13,000,000 citizens. After fighting through sectarian violence that saw terrorist attacks in the city as recently as 2010, a safe and successful Short Course World Championships should at least begin to help assuage any concerns by the IOC.
Madrid, Spain – Madrid has perhaps the best facility, which was constructed for their original 2012 Olympic bid. It seats up to 16,500 in a swimming specific venue, that includes three 50 meter x 25 meter pools, and a 25m x 22m diving pool. The Spanish federation has more than once demonstrated their ability to run a successful event; they hosted a good Olympic Games in 1992, and made a last-minute audible to host the 2013 FINA World Championships after Dubai pulled out, though both of those events will be in Barcelona. Spain’s biggest challenge would be convincing that their present financial woes won’t affect their ability to construct massive facilities and infrastructure needed to host an Olympic Games. The organizers have mitigated that by saying that 27 out of the 36 venues needed are already constructed, but we’ve seen financial troubles derail other events in the past, especially in swimming the past few years. Madrid is the smallest of the host cities, with only 3,000,000 residents, and they too have been recently hit by major terrorist attacks.
Tokyo, Japan – The main competition pool in Japan is the Tatsumi International Swimming Pool (pictured above), which has a 10-lane, 50m x 25m main course, with a 50m and 25m support pools. This would probably not be enough to host the Olympics, as the seating in the main pool is only 5,035, even expanded with temporary seating. This would, however, be at least the foundation for a spectacular Olympic aquatic center. Tokyo last hosted the 1964 Olympics, Tokyo is the only city on this list that has previously hosted an event. The country is undergoing a massive infrastructure rebuilding anyway after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck it in 2011, so expanding that to incorporate the needs of the Olympics wouldn’t be too difficult. It is also the most modern of the three cities, and would be an attractive showcase to many Olympic sponsors.