How We Got Here: A Brief History of the 2020 Olympic Bid

Buenos Aires, Argentina – For those who have just tuned in to the 2020 Olympic bid race and they need to catch up before Saturday’s vote by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – here’s a quick summary of what has happened to get us to this day.

The application deadline to bid for the 2020 Olympic Games was September 2, 2011. Six cities officially applied – Baku in Azerbaijan, Doha in Qatar, Istanbul, Tokyo, Madrid and Rome.

American city Las Vegas also submitted an application directly to the IOC, but it was rejected as it lacked the required endorsement of the United States Olympic Committee – they chose not to bid.

Following new procedures, any city wishing to plan the Games outside of the traditional July and August window were required to submit a request to the IOC for evaluation. Doha that suffers from stifling summertime heat requested that it hold the Games in October instead. The IOC accepted this plan and allowed Doha to continue the campaign.

Then, as the European economic crisis continued to burden Rome and Madrid, rumors spread that Rome would abandon its campaign while Madrid remained steadfast. By February 15, 2012 the IOC required the application questionnaire, including financial guarantees, from the bids; Rome lacked such guarantees and finally on February 14, Italy’s Prime Minister Monti refused to back the bid and Rome abandoned its campaign – it had been considered among the frontrunners at the time. The other five cities submitted the required documents.

On May 23, 2012 at the annual SportAccord Convention being held in Quebec City, the IOC released its preliminary evaluation report of the five bids, and as a result dropped Doha and Baku from the group because they didn’t measure up. Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul would move on as the smallest field of candidates for a Summer Games in several years.

The three bids got to work on the final bid books that were submitted to the IOC on January 7, effectively launching their international campaigns.

Then, beginning in March the IOC Evaluation Commission chaired by Sir Craig Reedie began site visits to the cities starting with Tokyo then followed by Madrid and Istanbul. Reedie claimed he was “hugely impressed” with Tokyo, then “greatly impressed” with Madrid. He said his impression of Istanbul was “excellent” and claimed that description was equal in magnitude to “hugely” and “greatly”.

But among observers at the time, Istanbul seemed to be ahead in the race with Tokyo close and Madrid trailing.

Timing is everything.

Just as the Istanbul bid team arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia for an important presentation at the SportAccord Convention, a demonstration began at home in Taksim Gezi Park that eventually spiralled out-of control and became national anti-government demonstrations. At the same time Madrid, who were struggling in the race, seemed to put more vigour in their presentation. Terence Burns, the famed Olympic “storyteller” who helped many recent bids achieve success through branding, was hired.

A month later at meetings in Lausanne, evaluation results were released that showed all three cities passed with flying colors. More importantly, Madrid’s economic problems were not highlighted as an issue for the IOC – opening the door for the Spanish campaign that went on to deliver an impressive presentation. Meanwhile, troubles in Istanbul continued.

The next major stop would be in Buenos Aires, at the 125th IOC session where the final vote is to take place Saturday. But still more time would need to pass.

In August, 31 Turkish athletes faced penalties for doping violations – forcing the bid to react in defense.

In late August, just short days before the vote, radioactive water was found leaking in Fukushima 120 miles away from Tokyo, stirring up fears of a potential impact on the Games. But support for the bid in Japan rose to over 92% – up over 40 points since last year.

Meanwhile, reports came out that the Spanish economy is just starting to improve and public support is at 91%.

As the IOC members arrive in Argentina, Olympic bookmakers are improving Madrid’s odds and Istanbul’s are getting longer. The murmur here is that Madrid has steadily gained momentum and may have built enough speed to win.

But while momentum is crucial for winning Olympic bids, being the perceived the leader is often a curse. Anything can happen, and it usually does in an Olympic host city bid vote.

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