Tokyo has been chosen to host the 2020 summer Olympics. The Japanese capital beat out Istanbul and Madrid, and fought off concerns surrounding radioactive leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unveiled Tokyo as host on Saturday at a meeting in Buenos Aires. Japan last hosted the games in 1964. Istanbul finished runner up on the ballot with 36 votes to Tokyo's 60 after eliminating Madrid in a dramatic first-round tie.
Tokyo had presented itself as a safe and financially reliable host city option in what they called "uncertain times," but had to work to convince IOC members that concerns over radiological leaks from the Fukushima plant were unfounded.
"Let me assure you that the situation is under control," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told IOC members a few hours before the vote. "It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."
A 2011 earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, located some 220 kilometers (140 miles) north of the capital. Last week, the Nuclear Regulation Authority increased the severity of the leak at the plant from level 1 to level 3, or "serious incident," after it was discovered that 300 tons of radioactive water had escaped from a storage tank.
In response to the crisis, the Japanese government on Tuesday pledged 47 billion yen ($473 million, 359 million euros) to help prevent the contaminated water from flowing into the groundwater.
Despite the Fukushima concerns, Japan had been considered the frontrunner to win the games. The country had finished third in the running for the 2016 Olympics, which were eventually awarded to Brazil.
The 2020 Olympiad marks the fourth time Japan will host the Olympics. In addition to the summer games nearly five decades ago, Nagano (1998) and Sapporo (1972) have hosted the winter games. Saturday's result also means that Asia will have consecutive Olympics, with the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang set to play host to the 2018 winter games.
Istanbul, Madrid fall short
Japan was not the only country that had to downplay domestic concerns in the run-up to the vote.
Turkey had looked to the become the first predominantly Muslim country to host the games, but political issues and the ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria dealt a blow to the country's hopes. Many IOC members were upset with the Turkish government's violent crackdown on protests earlier this summer stemming from the redevelopment of an Istanbul park. There is also rising concern that the unrest in Syria could spill into Turkey as the United States continues to push for military intervention in the conflict.
Madrid had hoped to shed fears of a recession-hit economy and piggyback off the momentum gained by a strong presentation to the IOC in Lusanne in July. Much of the city's necessary infrastructure was already in place and 28 of the 35 proposed venues have already been constructed. But their relatively low-budget bid ultimately proved unsuccessful.
IOC members were seen to have been looking for a safe host city option instead of the more controversial locations for the upcoming games. Next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi have drawn criticism, particularly because of Russia's policies towards gay rights, while Brazil has experienced mass protests related to public spending for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio de Janeiro games.
dr/av (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)