A strong show of support from Spanish leadership helped kick-off a four-day visit of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) evaluation team to Madrid, a city vying to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
His Royal Highness Prince Felipe was on-hand Sunday to welcome the IOC to Madrid followed by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Spain has sought relentlessly to host another Olympic Games since their extremely successful instalment in Barcelona in 1992. Since then, the sport-enthused nation has lodged four unsuccessful attempts to host the Winter Games in the north-eastern town of Jaca for 1998, 2002, 2010, and 2014. Then they put forward the city of Seville for the Summer Games in 2004 and 2008. The latest run for Madrid resulted in losses to London for 2012 and Rio for 2016.
“I have stated what I believe is the general feeling of Spanish society – Madrid has already attempted to win the bid on two previous occasions and was not successful then – but now we are convinced it can so we are going to battle hard to win now,” Prime Minister Rajoy said Monday.
“We are ready and prepared to host an event of the importance of the Olympic Games and we would do so very proudly and absolutely convinced that with the backing of people in Spain that it would be a huge success for Madrid, Spain and in general for the whole Olympic movement.”
But with Spain mired in deep recession, not all agree that even a frugal Madrid Olympics is appropriate while austerity measures are being imposed across the country. A three-day transit workers strike scheduled for this week was narrowly averted while El Mundo newspaper reports that sports facility workers will protest cost-cutting measures in front of the official IOC hotel, the Madrid Eurostars.
On Monday Botella thanked the workers of the Municipal Transport Company for postponing their planned strike so it did not coincide with the visit. The mayor called on the “whole of society” to be aware that “the right to strike” shouldn’t affect daily life in the city or the evaluation visit which will benefit everyone.
Rajoy said 80% of the venues are ready and the nation already handles 58 million tourists annually, that’s third-highest in the world – so additional effort to prepare for the Games would be minimal.
“The Games are part of Madrid’s DNA,” said Madrid Mayor Ana Botella. “For the best part of the last 15 years all the city’s strategic public policies have been designed and implemented with this objective in mind.”
Madrid 2020 CEO Alejandro Blanco explained the bid slogan “Lighting up the future”, he said “in our awareness of the power of education to eradicate social inequality, we have created an inclusive organisational model, promoting integration through diversity, no matter where people come from.”
The IOC Evaluation Commission spent the morning reviewing bid book themes including vision, legacy, concept, venues, Olympic Village and legacies. Among the planned site visits were the Palacio de los Desportes, Las Ventas bullring and the Retiro Park. Blanco revealed that the IOC team were particularly impressed with the latter two.
He said: “Of course, the Bernabeu is an international treasure and the Palacio de los Deportes is well known, but having Las Ventas and the Retiro in the bid is a real luxury.
“And this is line with the new concepts introduced by Madrid 2020, building on the previous two attempts.”
The team, lead by IOC member Sir Craig Reedie of Scotland, also visited the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, current home of Real Madrid and proposed host venue for Olympic football in 2020. They were met by Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas who ceremoniously took penalty kicks from the IOC delegates.
The inspection continues Tuesday with more closed-door meetings and site visits, then the team heads to rival Istanbul for an evaluation to begin Sunday.