Will Tokyo Beat the “Frontrunner Jinx”?

Buenos Aires, Argentina – In Olympic bidding circles, there is one word you do not want associated with your city’s name – “frontrunner”. You don’t want to hear “favourite” either, or “leader” or any of the different variations.

These labels are the result of opinions and rumours created by people that may be close to the Olympic movement, but are perpetuated by the mass media. Sometimes they are drawn from the various reports the IOC publishes or remarks made by the evaluation team. The fact is, very few IOC members discuss their votes in advance, and it would be quite challenging to get a statistically valid number of opinions in order to predict a vote.

Being mentioned a frontrunner doesn’t really mean much, and you might even go so far as say the status is a jinx. If so, maybe the election of PyeongChang for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games broke the spell because the South Korean resort town was often considered the favourite throughout the race.

But looking back, history shows a different story.

Throughout the two-year bid for the 2016 Games, Chicago was considered the strongest contender – enough so that U.S. President Barack Obama took Air Force One on a day trip to Copenhagen to try to seal the deal with IOC Members. Bookmaker odds heavily favoured the American city. Not only did Chicago lose to Rio, but by garnering only 18 of a possible 94 votes – the city was eliminated on the first ballot creating one of the most shocking moments in Olympic bid history.

The 2014 Winter Games was won by Sochi but it was PyeongChang that was favoured to win that bid. After the Russians flew an ice rink to Guatemala in the world’s largest airplane and Vladimir Putin spoke English publically for the first time at the final presentation there – the outcome did not mirror public opinion. In fact PyeongChang’s popular status was due to the town’s near upset of favourite Vancouver four years earlier.

From the start of the 2012 race, Paris was the city to beat. It was almost taken for granted that the Games would be going to France and four other cities were merely competing for respect. But quietly, and behind the scenes, London and Madrid were working the IOC members. British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with many members personally to offer his personal pledge all while “smart money” bets were being placed on Paris.

London won that race. And if it wasn’t London, it probably would have been Madrid.

Fast Forward to the 2020 vote to be held in Buenos Aires.

Tokyo is often referred to as the frontrunner in this race. Why? Because they have $4.5 billion in the bank? Because people on the street are betting on it?

Some here are saying that Istanbul has fallen behind, that domestic issues with the government and regional instability may be too much to overcome. Whose opinion is that? Are they voting Saturday?

Still others think Madrid has gained momentum and Spain will be the safer choice now that Tokyo is dealing with the Fukushima radiation leak. Fukushima is 120 miles from Tokyo and today, a Japanese government official said the leak was contained to an area of 0.3 km and $500 million will be spent to contain it. Have the IOC members said they are afraid to go to Tokyo?

The reality is, there is no frontrunner, and because of that there is no jinx – in fact the race really begins and ends at the press of a button on an electronic ballot. The IOC has allocated 3:45 to 4:00pm local Buenos Aires time Saturday for this voting. That’s the race.

And that’s why they hold the vote.