Tokyo 2020 heralds new dawn for Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (third from right) celebrating alongside Tokyo 2020 delegation members after the International Olympic Committee announced that the Japanese capital would be hosting the Olympic Games in 2020.

BUENOS AIRES - Just two years after a devastating tsunami left Japan in mourning, the Land of the Rising Sun woke to a new dawn on Sunday - as host of the 2020 Olympics.

Members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), voting at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires, chose Tokyo over Istanbul and Madrid, sparking jubilation in the Japanese capital.

In a live interview after the announcement, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: "Japan has had 15 years of economic stagnation... and we've lost confidence in ourselves. But I hope this will be a chance for us to regain our confidence."

He appears to have had his wish, as thousands of his countrymen on Sunday welcomed the announcement with unbridled joy.

Many had gathered in public squares - way before the announcement ceremony at 5.20am Tokyo time (4.20am Singapore time) - to catch the historic event live from Argentina.

Public broadcaster NHK even began its programming nearly seven hours before the decision was revealed. It gave those tuning in an insight into the drama unfolding half a world away.

Many had predicted that the decision would come down to Tokyo and Madrid, especially since the two cities had made the most impressive presentations.

Yet, the Spanish capital was shockingly eliminated in the first round of voting, before Tokyo got the nod over Istanbul.

"I have been waiting a long time for this feeling," bid chief Tsunekazu Takeda said in Buenos Aires. "The members of the IOC have seen that Tokyo is a safe pair of hands."

Tokyo became the front runner after the IOC's Evaluation Commission gave it the highest praise of the three in June.

Then, last month, news that the Fukushima nuclear plant - which suffered a meltdown after the 2011 tsunami and earthquake - was still leaking radioactive water into the ocean threatened the idea of Tokyo as a safe bet.

But its rivals were also dogged by problems recently. Madrid had to reassure the IOC that Spain's under-performing economy would not be an issue, while Istanbul had to contend with the conflict in neighbouring Syria and a doping scandal.

All three cities sought the help of politicians to further their cause, with Mr Abe, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy all flying to Buenos Aires after attending the G-20 summit in Russia.

It was Mr Abe who made the most impact, directly addressing concerns over Fukushima in his speech to the IOC. "Let me assure you the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo," he told the 103 members.

Tokyo governor Naoki Inose said the Games will create hope.

"We will offer dreams and hope to future generations, and our hosting of the Games will accelerate the recovery in Japan's tsunami-affected area."

marclim@sph.com.sg

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