Risk-averse see Tokyo as safe choice for the Olympics

Tokyo residents at a public viewing event celebrating after hearing that the Japanese capital had been chosen to host the 2020 Olympic Games, 56 years after it hosted the 1964 edition.

BUENOS AIRES - The romantics dreamed of a landmark Games in unchartered waters.

The traditionalists had hoped for a return to a country which had delivered so spectacularly in 1992.

But in the end, the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) went for the safe choice, Tokyo.

What both Istanbul, which has never hosted the Olympics, and Madrid could not give IOC members was the peace of mind that the next seven years leading up to the 2020 Games would be problem-free.

"I think it's a deserved decision, it was the best bid and the safest from a different point of view," IOC member from Switzerland Denis Oswald, one of six men who are campaigning to succeed outgoing IOC president Jacques Rogge, told The Straits Times.

"We knew they (Tokyo) would deliver.

"With the other bids, we would take some risks, as with Sochi and Rio, so I think it was good to go on the safe side."

Both Sochi, in Russia, and Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, have been criticised over a myriad of problems.

Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, had a senior Olympic official sacked by Russian President Vladimir Putin as concerns mount over construction delays and the soaring cost of the Games - the most expensive in history.

Expenditure is expected to hit £32 billion (S$64 billion), more than the £27 billion spent on the 2008 Beijing Games amid allegations by Russian opposition that huge tranches of money have been siphoned off by corrupt officials and contractors.

In Rio, a newspaper report cited confidential IOC documents that phases of the 2016 Olympics were at "serious risk" mainly because of construction delays.

The report, carried in the widely circulated O Estado de S. Paulo, said that only half the construction was on schedule.

IOC vice-president and presidential candidate Thomas Bach said the choice of the 2020 host came down to deciding between old versus new.

"I think it is an election between a traditional candidature and new grounds, and today it was the traditional candidature that won," he told Reuters.

Traditional, in IOC speak, means fuss-free.

After already breaking new ground by awarding the 2016 Olympics to a South American country for the first time, there was little danger that the IOC would be criticised this time around if it did not expand the Games to new regions.

Furthermore, in a climate of cost-cutting measures and criticism that the Olympics are getting too expensive, Tokyo's US$6 billion bid, compared to Istanbul's US$19 billion, was a no-brainer.

IOC president Rogge alluded to Tokyo being a safe choice when addressing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the contract-signing ceremony.

"You described yourself as a safe pair of hands and as a surgeon, even if I did not vote, this appeals to me," said the Belgian orthopaedic surgeon.

According to IOC sources, although Istanbul narrowly defeated Madrid by 49 votes to 45 to enter the final round with Tokyo - thanks in part to some serious last-minute lobbying - Madrid had largely been seen as a strong challenger to favourite Tokyo.

But even while Madrid did make a compelling case, pointing out that it would be an inexpensive Games as 80 per cent of the infrastructure needed to host an Olympics already exists, question marks still lingered over its stagnant economy.

"The numbers tell the story," said Oswald, citing how Tokyo had 42 votes to Istanbul and Madrid's 26 in the first round and 60 to Istanbul's 36 in the deciding round.

"It's an overwhelming endorsement that it was always the preferred candidate."

marclim@sph.com.sg


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