Olympics: Abe lauds Tokyo 2020 pick, urges work to win world’s trust

BUENOS AIRES - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games as an opportunity to showcase Japan's rebound from a devastating earthquake, stressing the city must work to win the world's trust.

Tokyo was awarded the Games earlier on Saturday, beating Istanbul in a head-to-head vote after Abe delivered a charismatic plea to the IOC, promising them Japan's crippled nuclear plant was 'under control'.

"This has been such a close race until the last moment," Abe said during a press conference in Buenos Aires.

"The real games have only just started for Tokyo," he added. "Let us make ... efforts to win the trust and confidence of people in the world so that the decision to choose Tokyo on Saturday will be remembered as the right one," he added.

The Japanese capital won what one insider had called a"least-ugly" contest by most effectively covering its blemishes. Rival Madrid has been laid low by the economy and Istanbul has been beset by anti-government protests.

Tokyo won by a landslide, 60 votes to Istanbul's 36, after Madrid was eliminated in a first round of voting. This was despite concerns of the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant 230 km (140 miles) from the Japanese capital.

Abe, who left early from a Group of 20 summit in Russia to make his pitch at the meeting in Buenos Aires, promised the roughly 100 members of the International Olympic Committee that concerns about the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant were unfounded.

Fixing IOC members with a level gaze, he said: "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."

The plant's operator has said hundreds of tonnes of radioactive water are pouring into the Pacific Ocean each day, and radiation levels have spiked.

Abe's government said this week it would spend almost half a billion dollars to try to fix the water crisis. He told the IOC on Saturday, "Let me assure you the situation is under control."

'Safe pair of hands'

Tokyo won the right to stage the sporting extravaganza for the second time, having hosted in 1964 when the Games first went to Asia. On that occasion, Abe's grandfather, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, led the bid to bring the Games to Japan.

Tokyo in its pitch highlighted its solid finances and strong track record of delivering on promises. Olympic President Jacques Rogge described its as "a safe pair of hands."

The next summer Olympics will be hosted by Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and the preparations for that Games have been plagued by delays and complications.

Moreover, the Tokyo bid capitalizes on the potential of the Asian continent, with its increasingly consumer-focused economies.

Winning the Games was an enormous prize after two years of intense lobbying and tens of millions of dollars spent, and Abe was thrilled.

"I would like to thank everyone in the Olympic movement and we will host wonderful Olympic Games," a beaming Abe told Reuters seconds after the result.

Bid leader Tsunekazu Takeda was in tears as he said, "It is a great honour that Tokyo has been chosen. For Istanbul, it was its fifth unsuccessful bid in the last six votes to host a summer Olympics.

The city had pitched itself as a new region for the Games, the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and as a vehicle to help foster peace in the Middle East. But the conflict in neighbouring Syria and recent anti-government demonstrations in Turkey overshadowed the bid.

Istanbul bid sports director Alp Berker was searching for a reason for rejection as he told Reuters, "I don't know. ... there are too many variables, maybe it's the timing, maybe it's something else."

When asked if the Syrian crisis had damaged their chances, he said: "We tried to tell them it was not the case, because it's a global issue. Really, I don't know what the members are thinking when they're pushing the button."

IOC vice-president and presidential candidate Thomas Bach described the decision as new versus old. "I think it is an election between a traditional candidature and new grounds, and on Saturday it was the traditional candidature that won," he told Reuters.

Boost for Abe

Madrid, which had pitched a safe, affordable, "sensible"bid, was eliminated in a secret vote pitting it against Istanbul after the two cities tied behind Tokyo. Madrid's attempt to host 2020 was its third consecutive try.

Tokyo is planning to incorporate existing venues and has estimated a non-Games budget of about $4.4 billion (S$5.6 billion) , compared with $3.4 billion for the actual event.

It already has a war-chest of some $4.5 billion in the bank. The victory is expected to boost Abe's popularity, and could potentially spur his signature pro-growth policies for the world's third-biggest economy. A successful Tokyo bid should boost confidence as well as spur construction and tourism.

Japanese unity around the games helped Tokyo clinch the nomination, Abe said, adding the games will boost Japan's economy, tourism and infrastructure.

"During the Tokyo 2020 olympics I am determined to show to the world... (a) Japan that accomplishes a remarkable reconstruction from disaster and stands once again at the forefront of the world," he added.

The next summer Olympics will be hosted by Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The preparations for that Games have been plagued by delays and complications, and a decision for Tokyo 2020 is a return to safer waters for the Olympic movement.

"We really need to respond to expectations... That is our challenge going forward," Abe said.