Madrid, led by Spain’s heir to the throne, Crown Prince Felipe, produced an excellent presentation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Wednesday to steal the show over their rivals for the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
The three-way battle between Madrid, third for last year’s Games and second in the 2016 race, Istanbul, with their most effective campaign after four failed attempts, and Tokyo, the only city to host the Games, back in 1964, is still regarded as too tight to call.
However, Madrid, whose decision two years ago to bid was questioned because of the financial crisis affecting Spain, coupled with fellow European city Rome’s decision not to because of their own parlous economic state, undoubtedly have the momentum.
An extremely positive assessment by the IOC Evaluation Commission last week — who said their modest budget of 2.37 billion euros (US$3.10 billion) for hosting the Games was feasible as most of the venues and infrastructure are in place — and Wednesday’s presentation bode well for the vote on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
One senior IOC member said the difference between their presentation at SportAccord in St Petersburg, Russia, and in Lausanne were poles apart.
“Their presentation here was a knockout,” the source said. “In St Petersburg they were the worst of the three, but here they were magnificent. Tokyo were not so good, a bit flat, and Istanbul were full of passion. Madrid could well take the same momentum out of this that Rio de Janeiro did four years ago.”
Other members who went on the record preferred to couch it as still very much a three-horse race, although Dick Pound, former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), did acknowledge Madrid had upped their game.
“If there has been progress made, it is Madrid. Their presentation has won them points. It is not like the last time with Rio, but they haven’t done badly at all,” Pound said. “Last time with Rio it changed the course of the race, this time a little bit.”
Pound, who lost out to Jacques Rogge in 2001 to replace outgoing IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, was unequivocal about the impact Prince Felipe’s presence had.
“He was the star of the day,” he said.
To Madrid bid leader Alejandro Blanco, 45-year-old Prince Felipe was reflective of the role the Spanish royal family play in the country’s sporting life.
“He was the flag bearer at the Barcelona Games [competing in the yachting] and he is as committed to sport in Spain as indeed he is committed to everything in Spanish society,” said Blanco, who was also flanked by the Spanish Minister of Finance Luis de Guindos. “They are the most involved royal family in sports. It is very important to have him on our side.”
While Istanbul and Tokyo did not roll out heirs to the throne, they still had powerful big hitters — deputy prime minister’s from both countries forming part of their presentation teams.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said none of the IOC members had asked a question about the anti-government protests that had swept the country.
Babacan addressed concerns expressed in the IOC Evaluation Commission report over transport, saying a train tunnel, a separate road tunnel and a third bridge are all set to be constructed.
Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who competed in the shooting in Montreal in the 1976 Olympics, said a Tokyo Games would be a crowning moment in the remarkable process of recovery by the Japanese since an earthquake and tsunami devasted parts of the country two years ago.
“We suffered a major disaster on March 11, 2011, with the tsunami,” he said. “Everyone had the impression that Japan had been destroyed, but we wanted to run another campaign for the Olympics and show the rest of the world that we had recovered. An Olympic Games in 2020 would give great encouragement to the Japanese, which is very important.”