Last updated: September 8, 2013 1:48 am

Tokyo chosen as ‘safe pair of hands’ to host 2020 Olympics

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People gathered at the Tokyo metropolitan government building celebrate and carry a banner after Tokyo won its bid to be the host city of the 2020 Olympics©AFP

People gathered at the Tokyo metropolitan government building celebrate after the city won its bid to host the 2020 Olympics

Tokyo celebrated on Sunday after beating Istanbul and Madrid to host the 2020 Olympics by pitching itself as a “safe pair of hands” for the world’s biggest sporting event.

The Japanese capital, which was considered the favourite, was picked by members of the International Olympic Committee in a two-round vote in Buenos Aires on Saturday. It defeated Istanbul, the other survivor of the first round, by a vote of 60-36.

Each of the candidates had been seen as an imperfect choice, with Japan dogged by radiation concerns connected to the Fukushima nuclear accident, Spain in economic crisis and Turkey grappling with street demonstrations and a civil war in neighbouring Syria.

In choosing Tokyo, which hosted the summer games in 1964 and has already banked a $4.5bn reserve fund for 2020, the IOC was swayed by the city’s promise of “certainty in uncertain times”. It heeded assurances by Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, that the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant was “under control” and “has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo”, 250km to the south.

Mr Abe had linked Japan’s bid to his efforts to stimulate the country’s economy since he took power nine months ago. “I want to make the Olympics a trigger for sweeping away 15 years of deflation economic shrinkage,” he said after the IOC vote.

The selection was announced around 5am Sunday Japan time, but pockets of diehard Japanese Olympic supporters who had stayed up all night awaiting the result erupted in cheers.

Tokyo is promising a “compact” and “downtown” Olympics with most venues located near the centre of the city and within a few kilometres of the athletes’ village. A futuristic-looking main stadium is to be built on the site of the athletics stadium from 1964.

Japan has also previously hosted two Winter Olympics and it co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea, a record that resonated well amid growing concerns about Brazil’s ability to meet deadlines for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

Istanbul had delivered an ambitious proposal in which it pitched itself as an “historic choice”, since it would have been the first Olympics in a predominantly Muslim nation, in a city that straddles two continents. But its bid lost its initial momentum after the Taksim Square protests, with doping scandals and the spectre of war in neighbouring Syria also dampening enthusiasm.

Although Istanbul reached second place, the defeat is a particular blow to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, who championed the bid, which he placed at the centre of a huge infrastructure programme for his home city.

“This is one of the few major defeats that Erdogan has had to face,” said Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, who described the vote as a second shock to the Turkish government after mass protests rocked much of the country in June.

Mr Barkey argued that it could also have consequences for Turkish domestic politics, suggesting that if the bid had triumphed Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK party would have been virtually certain to hold on to Istanbul in municipal elections next year.

Madrid was knocked out in the first round of voting after failing to assuage doubts about Spain’s economic crisis, in spite of having the cheapest proposal by far, claiming it will cost the government just $1.9bn, with about 80 per cent of its infrastructure already built.

Leaders of all three would-be host nations flew into Buenos Aires for the IOC meeting straight from the G20 summit in St Petersburg. They hoped to have a similar impact to Tony Blair, who helped propel London’s 2005 bid to victory, unlike US President Barack Obama’s unsuccessful efforts to secure Chicago’s attempt four years ago.

Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey in Istanbul

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