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Europe

Madrid crosses fingers for 2020 Olympic bid

For Madrid, the bid to host the 2020 Olympics is about more than competition with Tokyo and Istanbul. It's a chance for the Spanish capital to escape the negative spotlight that's been shining down on it for a while now.

If the IOC vote goes Spain's way:

Madrid's soaring, Neo-Moorish bullring would be converted into a basketball arena. A huge pond in the Spanish capital's famed Retiro Park would be drained and filled with sand, for beach volleyball. Cyclists would spin circles around some of Europe's greatest soccer stadiums.

All these scenes are among the Olympic dreams on display at Madrid's city hall - in advance of a September 7 announcement on who will host the 2020 Olympic Summer Games.

For the Spanish capital, it's the third consecutive bid - and one of the cheapest on record. Less than $3 billion (2.3 billion euros) would be spent on the games in Madrid, officials say, acknowledging with pride that the figure is just a fraction of the bids from Madrid's two competitors, Istanbul and Tokyo. By contrast, some of the costliest Games were in Beijing, estimated to have topped $42 billion, and Sochi, Russia, is currently approaching $50 billion.

One of the reasons Madrid has been able to bid so low is its recent past - the construction bubble. The skyline of the Spanish capital is marred by half-built and empty condos and building complexes, the stillborn reminders of a construction-fueled economy gone sour. The city has an excess of stadia, housing and public parks - which it wants to put to use for the Olympics.

Madrid Kandidatur Olympiade 2020

Madrid is hoping its third time will be a charm

Image boost

Some 80 percent of the infrastructure Madrid needs to host the Olympics is already in place, according to Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee.

"No investment is more profitable for a city than the Olympics," Blanco told reporters recently. "A big part of the profits will be in money, but another part, of incalculable value, is for our image."

Madrid is trying to revamp an image that's been colored by Europe's debt crisis, record-high unemployment, a Spanish bank bailout from Brussels, and sports doping scandals.

Spanische Arzt Eufemiano Fuentes

Fuentes was at the center of the Spanish doping drama

The city had the dubious honor last spring of hosting the trial of Eufemiano Fuentes, a high-profile Spanish doctor convicted of providing drugs and blood transfusions to top athletes worldwide. Among those who testified against him was one of his former patients, the US cyclist Tyler Hamilton, who had been a teammate of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. Hamilton admitted in court to receiving secret blood transfusions in an anonymous Madrid hotel room.

"When [Hamilton] came here to Madrid, he got an extraction of blood and he couldn't wait - he had a plane to catch. He gets to the airport, and all his shirt is full of blood," said Filippo Ricci, an Italian journalist who covered the trial. "This is not a Tarantino film. This is blood, and it's in the streets of Madrid. It's just incredible."

But Spanish officials insist those scenes are in the past, and that Madrid has adopted a tough stance on drugs in sports. Since Fuentes' arrest in 2006, Spain has passed two progressively stricter anti-doping laws.

"Until 2006, doping in Spain was a question of breaking administrative rules for a particular sport, but it wasn't something criminal," said Alberto Palomar, a law professor at Universidad Carlos III of Madrid and a leading sports law expert in Spain.

"What happened in 2006, and then again with an even stronger law in 2013, was that we introduced criminal penalties for doping - for the distribution and dispensation of drugs - but not the consumption. Now it's just like the laws in Italy or France."

Palomar says Spain's current anti-doping laws are even tougher than those in Brazil and China - fellow Olympic host countries. But still, many critics say the new legislation is "too little, too late" for Spain's reputation as a doping haven.

Spanien Arbeitslosigkeit Schlange vor Arbeitsamt

Spanish unemployment has reached unprecedented heights

Smoke screen

For ordinary Madrilenos, doping is not much of a concern - but the economy certainly is. Outside the Olympics exhibit at Madrid's city hall, locals debate what the Games might bring to their city - tourism, revenue, and maybe jobs. But for how long?

"If the Olympics bring us jobs, they'll only be temporary ones," said Paul Saez, a middle-aged marketing manager who considers himself lucky to be employed. "Rent prices will go up, big companies will come in to make money off us - and all the while, our government is cutting spending on things like public health care and education."

Spanien - Premierminster Mariano Rajoy

Rajoy is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal

He called Madrid's Olympic bid a "smoke screen," designed to cover up public discontent over a corruption scandal that has reached the highest levels of Spanish government. Dozens of politicians from the ruling conservative party are accused of taking under-the-table cash payments from construction companies, for years. The party's former treasurer has been jailed awaiting trial, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has publicly denied any wrongdoing.

Other Madrilenos hold out hope that the Olympics could jumpstart the local economy, and spread a little cheer.

"I think for any city, having the Olympics is always something positive," said Lourdes Kornacker, who is unemployed despite speaking four languages fluently. "Sports, I think, unifies people -makes us fight for something good."

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