Three contenders still jostling in the race to host the 2020 Olympics

Next Saturday’s IOC vote will determine whether Tokyo, Istanbul or Madrid is selected as host city


That’s September knocking on the window already and some of us will soon be sleeping in our dressing gowns to keep us from the howling winds.

Actually my dressing gown may need replacing, if only because it feels so out of date, branded with a red and blue “Paris 92” logo, and the five-ringed Olympic emblem.

It can be traced back to the large suitcase of gifts my dad brought home from Paris, in 1986, when he and a large team of journalists were schmoozed for four days at the Hotel George V, and shown around all the steamy nightspots by the then city major, Jacques René Chirac.

Indeed my friends at school were extremely envious of all my “Paris 92” paraphernalia – the t-shirts and key-rings and boxer shorts – until a few months later, the International Olympic Committee met in Lausanne and awarded those 1992 Olympics to Barcelona. Paris may have bribed all the journalists, and God knows who else, but Barcelona, the birthplace of then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, had some other tricks up its sleeve, beating Paris in the final vote.

There was no let up in that sort of carry-on – Coco-Cola sweet-talking the IOC for Atlanta 1996, etc – until 1998, when three years after Salt Lake City was awarded the 2002 Winter Olympics, tales of such bribery became a full-blown scandal, with certain IOC members getting huge bundles of cash.

Great lengths
Unfortunately, I just missed out: in 1999, the IOC – conscious of cleaning up their act – invited several young journalists to attend the European Youth Olympics, in Esbjerg, Denmark, and went to great lengths to ensure the accommodation was basic. So I shared with two rather large young men from Eastern Europe in a tiny room.

Rather than no expense spared, there were simply no expenses – and my haste to order us a round of beers the first night out cost me €33, almost all the money I’d brought.

We did, however, get to dine with the then president of the European Olympic Committee, a tall, striking man named Jacques Rogge, a model of integrity who two years later took over the IOC presidency. He’s retained that model ever since, and so too has the IOC, for the most part, which is why everything about next Saturday’s vote in Buenos Aires for the city to host the 2020 Olympics will be perfectly fair and square.

Or will it? “Although the rules clearly stated that one candidate city cannot undermine another, nonetheless there was a deal of gamesmanship,” wrote Seb Coe, in last year’s Running My Life, the climax of which is the gripping tale of London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics.

So, even though the three cities in the running for 2020 – Tokyo, Madrid, and Istanbul – will feel all their hard work is done already, it’s actually only beginning, because everything can and will change in lobbies and bars of the Buenos Aires Hilton in the days and hours before next Saturday’s vote, and the announcement, around 1pm Irish time, of the successful host city.

To vote
Even the voting process itself makes things liable for change: all 135 IOC members are eligible to vote (including our own Pat Hickey, and not forgetting Pat McQuaid), unless they’re from the country of one of the candidate cities, but the winner needs to get an absolute majority, which may necessitate a couple of rounds of voting. If Madrid, for example, is eliminated in the first round, that might influence what happens next, between Tokyo and Istanbul, and so on.

The IOC will be presented with three equally grand candidate dossiers, documented in the 110-page report of the IOC Evaluation Commission, following visits to the bidding cites back in March.

Tokyo is the marginal favourite, with a beautiful Olympic Stadium already being renovated for the 2019 Rugby World Cup; Istanbul boasts Turkey’s bubbling economy and the fact no Muslim country has yet hosted the Olympics; while Madrid, the outsiders, is promoting a budget of just $1.9 billion (London’s public spending came in at $14 billion), which might actually appeal to the IOC’s financial controllers. There will also be three big elephants in the Hilton conference room: Japan’s ongoing issues with the Fukushima radiation leaks, Turkey’s recent riots and proximity to the Syria crisis, and Spain’s slow economic meltdown.

What might ultimately swing the game is the fact the IOC must also vote on two other matters next weekend – which sport gets to compete in the 2020 Olympics (wrestling, baseball/softball or squash), and who will succeed Rogge as IOC president (six men in the running fancy their chances).

The big favourite to replace Rogge, however, is the 59-year-old German Thomas Bach. If Bach gets the presidency he will likely want to bring the 2024 Olympics to Europe, which suggests he’d prefer either Tokyo or Istanbul to get 2020.

But given seven of the previous eight IOC presidents have been European, both Ng Ser Miang (from Singapore) and Ching-kuo Wu (from Taiwan) will feel it’s time an Asian got the gig, the trade-off there being the 2020 Olympics should to go Europe. Then there’s the growing support for wrestling to remain an Olympic sport, which is particularly strong in Asia, and could shift votes towards both Tokyo and Istanbul.

In other words, it’s still all to play for, so tune in next Saturday to see how it all works out.

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