Tokyo and Istanbul tried on Thursday to allay fears that leaks at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and Syria conflict might hurt their bids to host the 2020 summer Olympics, as the race entered its final two days.
Madrid, by contrast, was in relaxed mode and fielded basketball superstar Pau Gasol, who despite being born in Barcelona, has thrown his weight behind the Spanish capital city’s third successive bid.
All three will learn their fate today.
Madrid, after finishing third and second for last year’s and 2016’s Games respectively, will be hoping it is a case of third time lucky.
Tokyo is hoping to gets to host the Games for the second time.
If Istanbul wins, Turkey would become the first Muslim country to welcome the Games.
Their fate lies in the hands of the unpredictable electorate of the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), 98 of whom are eligible to vote in the first round. Members from the cities’ countries cannot.
Tokyo has had a wretched few days, with stories continuing to emerge about Fukushima, which was crippled in the tsunami and earthquake two years ago that left more than 18,000 people dead.
The latest story on Thursday was that highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank and may have seeped into groundwater flowing toward the Pacific Ocean.
However, several high-profile Japanese athletes, including the bid’s director of sport, Yuko Arakida, said that by hosting the Games, they would bring some solace to the young people affected by the tsunami and earthquake.
“Needless to say, we want this problem to be solved as quickly as possible,” she said. “We convey our thoughts to the people of Fukushima, but we hope that by hosting the Games, it will bring inspiration and solace to the children of the area.”
Worries that the Syrian conflict could erode support for Istanbul appeared wide of the mark, as four IOC members stated that it would make no difference.
“Current events do play a role, but the world is an ever-changing place and who knows what it will be like in seven years time. It is a vote for the future, not just about the present,” IOC vice president Ng Ser Miang said.
Istanbul bid director Hasan Arat said he was not concerned and decisions about what happened in Syria lay in the hands of people like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“I think that this is a matter for the political leaders to discuss and make decisions at the G20 summit in St Petersburg, Russia,” Arat said. “I think they will find a solution on that topic. There is seven years to go to the 2020 Olympic Games and this is such a big opportunity for the region, for the Olympic Movement and for the youth of the region. I am very optimistic.”
Gasol reflected Madrid’s refusal to ever concede defeat.
They have battled on when some posed questions over their ability to host the Games in the light of the dire state of the economy, which has shown signs of slight improvements in some recent data.
“The whole of Spain is excited,” the 33-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star said. “We are showing everyone that we have a dream and that we don’t throw the towel in or give up, which is very important. Our bid is very strong and it is risk free.”