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The numbers "2020" are displayed on Tokyo Tower on May 30, 2013, marking 100 days before the venue of the 2020 Summer Olympics is decided. (Photo: Kyodo)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

2020 Olympics in Tokyo

Julian Ryall, Tokyo
September 8, 2013

Tokyo rejoices after defeating Istanbul and Madrid in the race to host the 2020 Olympic Games. Japan's capital, which hosted the 1964 Games, will be the first Asian city to hold the world's biggest sporting event twice.


In the final few moments before the host nation of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games was announced, there was silence in bars, restaurants, homes and especially in Japan's Olympic Committee venues in Tokyo.

But as Jacques Rogge, the outgoing president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), opened the envelope in the Argentinean capital of Buenos Aires and read out the single word printed on it - "Tokyo" - residents of the Japanese capital erupted in joy.

Japanese supporters of the Tokyo Bid 2020 team celebrate in Tokyo early Sunday morning, Sept. 8, 2013, upon learning Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Olympics at the IOC voting as they watch a live broadcast from Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi) )
Thousands of Japanese erupted in joy after the announcementImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

Media outlets showed images of jubilant supporters of the bid hugging, shouting and crying in most uncharacteristic public displays of emotion. Music blared, and streamers were fired across packed auditoriums.

"We did it, we did it," appeared to be the most common shared reaction to the announcement that Tokyo had defeated Istanbul 60 to 36 votes in a second round of secret voting.

Madrid, the other city competing to host the XXXII Olympiad, had been surprisingly eliminated in the first round of voting.

'Honored and humbled'

"Tokyo is honored and humbled by the IOC's decision to award us the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games," said Tsunekazu Takeda, president of both the Japanese Olympic Committee and the 2020 Tokyo campaign. "The Olympic family has put its faith in our great city to deliver the memorable Games that we have promised, and we will not let them down," he said.

Takeda, who represented the Asian nation in the equestrian events in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich as well as four years later in Montreal, added that the most recent public polls revealed that "92 percent of the Japanese population supported Tokyo's hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, so I am confident that 116 million Japanese people are smiling right now."

"Tokyo 2020 will be a superb occasion in the very heart of our dynamic capital city," he said.

The IOC's decision means that Tokyo will be the first city in Asia to host the Olympics twice, having also staged the Games in 1964, while the Japanese cities of Sapporo and Nagano have also both hosted the Winter Olympics. Tokyo had lost out to Rio de Janeiro in the race to host the 2016 Olympics but clearly learned from its mistakes in the campaign to secure the 2020 Games.

The Japanese capital was considered the front runner in the weeks leading up to the final vote in Buenos Aires thanks to a slick promotional campaign that emphasized Tokyo's efficient infrastructure, experience in hosting global sporting events and financial guarantees to the tune of Y400 billion (US$ 4.03 billion), backed by the government, as well as the fact that Tokyo "is one of the world's safest and most welcoming cities."

Overcoming concerns

Those positives aspects, however, had been overshadowed by global concerns over the ongoing problems at the Fukushima nuclear plant, just 225 kilometers (140 miles) north of Tokyo. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who cut short his participation in the G-20 summit in Moscow to make a final drive to support Tokyo's bid, staged a vigorous defense of the country's efforts to bring the damaged reactors under control and clear up the radioactivity that has been escaping into the surrounding countryside and the Pacific Ocean.

Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi (R), wearing a protective suit and a mask, inspects contaminated water tanks at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture August 26, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
Japan defended its efforts to bring the damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima under controlImage: Reuters

In reply to a question about the safety of the plant, destroyed in the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, the prime minister said: "Let me assure you that the situation is under control. We want you not to focus on the headlines from newspapers, but the facts. It has not done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."

The success of Tokyo's bid suggests that Abe's presentation succeeded in swaying the IOC team tasked with selecting the host city.

'My heart was pounding'

Questioned by reporters just moments after the decision was announced, Abe said, "My heart was pounding - and I am so happy. We will respond to the expectations and support by holding a successful Olympics," he added. "I think we conveyed the message that we can hold a safe Olympics."

As well as underlining the safety of their bid, the Japanese delegation emphasized that granting the Games to Tokyo would go some way to encouraging the people affected by the March 2011 natural disasters.

In the final presentation to the IOC selection panel, Paralympic athlete Mami Sato expressed what a vote for Tokyo would mean to the nation. A runner and swimmer in her teens, Sato lost a leg to cancer at the age of 19, but represented Japan in the Paralympic Games in Athens and Beijing.

Her hometown in Tohoku was badly damaged by the 2011 earthquake and the ensuing tsunami and it was several days before she could confirm that her family had survived. Sato later worked with other athletes to help provide aid packages to survivors.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is also leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, speaks to voters during a campaign for the July 21 Upper house election in Funabashi, east of Tokyo July 19, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
PM Abe: 'I think we conveyed the message that we can hold a safe Olympics.'Image: Reuters

Aid to disaster victims

"More than 200 athletes, Japanese and international, made almost 1,000 visits to the affected areas, inspiring more than 50,000 children," she told the IOC. "Only then did I see the true power of sport. To create new dreams and smiles. To give hope. To bring people together."

Celebrations were continuing across Tokyo as the sun rose on Sunday, September 8, with good-natured revelers dancing on the famous crossroads in Shibuya. After nearly two-and-a-half testing years for Japan, there is a new sense that better times are ahead and that the crisis in Fukushima can be overcome.

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