The three cities bidding to host the 2020 Summer Olympics — Madrid, Istanbul and Tokyo — on Saturday delivered their final presentations ahead of the expected tight vote by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
For the three cities this was a final chance to woo the IOC members with a 45-minute presentation followed by the first round of voting. The verdict after one of the closest contests in Olympic history is expected to be announced by IOC President Jacques Rogge from Buenos Aires at around 2000GMT.
First to take to the stage were Istanbul, seeking to bring the Games for the first time to a predominantly Muslim country, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan told his IOC ‘judges’ that were Istanbul chosen it would send out a powerful message to the Middle East region, which he said is in desperate need of peace.
Erdogan, who has been at the forefront of moves to punish neighbour Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons on its people, told IOC delegates in his native tongue: “We live at a time when our region and the world wish for peace and at this critical moment we would like to send a strong message of peace to the world from Istanbul.
Pressed on this by Prince Albert of Monaco in the question session afterwards, Erdogan delivered a firm reply. “There is a quest for peace in our region and I see the Olympic Rings as being a powerful partner for that, symbolising peace, friendship and partnership.”
Next on to the stage was Tokyo, the 1964 host. Tokyo’s bid this week has been dogged by questions over the safety of the Fukushima plant — damaged in the tsunami and earthquake which hit the north east of Japan in 2011 — as more stories emanated about contaminated water leaking into the Pacific Ocean.
But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had flown in from the G20 Summit in Russia, assured IOC members the situation regarding the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant was under control. The 58-year-old, in an assured and polished performance speaking in English, left no doubt that he and his government had the situation under control.
“Fukushima, let me assure you the situation is under control,” he said. “It has never done or will do any damage to Tokyo.” Abe replied decisively when pressed by veteran Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg over Fukushima. “You should read past the headlines and look at the facts,” he said.
Madrid were the last to put their case, before the IOC began deliberating on which city was to take over the Olympic baton from 2016 host Rio de
Madrid looked to have gained a slight, late edge over its two rivals and has shown remarkable resilience throughout the race, battling to convince members it could host the Games despite the dire state of the Spanish economy. The Madrid bid has made much of the fact it already has 28 of the 35 venues built.