International political game of Olympic bidding

International political game of Olympic bidding

The modern Olympic Games were started in 1896; many countries have had dreams of hosting them since then. The world’s biggest, most prestigious and most expensive sports event had been held only in Europe and North America until Melbourne, Australia, was given the 1956 Summer Olympics. Since then, Western countries have had the lion’s share. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will be the first for a South American country. The 2008 Beijing Olympics was the first in an emerging market economy.

Hosting the Olympics is a good opportunity for the countries to augment their international reputation and prestige, along with its dubious economic benefits. More importantly, host cities could use the events as an accelerator to develop their infrastructure, facilities and public spaces. The most successful example of rejuvenation has been the 1992 Barcelona Games. However, not all the Games are such success, and their costs and drain on national economies are much more on the news. 

In the latest bidding to host 2020 Olympics and Paralympics Games; Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo competed and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), an international nongovernmental organization based in Lausanne, Switzerland, decided in favor of Tokyo. It received 42 votes in the first round of voting, while Istanbul and Madrid were tied at 26 votes. In the tiebreaking vote, Istanbul became a finalist with 49 votes against Madrid’s 45 votes. In the final, Tokyo beat Istanbul 60 to 36.
This was Istanbul’s fifth unsuccessful bid since 2000 and Madrid’s third. Tokyo also failed once before.
Obviously, the IOC has doubts about the ability of these three cities to host the games successfully. In the end, it had to choose among the three non-favorites, and Tokyo appeared to be the less problematic bid. Tokyo will host the Games for the second time and Japan for the fourth time (Tokyo 1964, Sapporo 1972, Nagano 1998). Although there are concerns about the radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant, 230 kilometers from Tokyo, the IOC members must have thought it a lesser concern.

Spain is struggling with economic recession and high unemployment rates, as well as problems with doping in sports. Turkey, on the other hand, is struggling with political instabilities, a 30 year-old insurgency, weak infrastructure, traffic jams, doping in sports and widespread turmoil in its southern neighbors. Nevertheless, Turkey was optimistic.

While the political risks associated with the upcoming games in Sochi and Rio might have had an effect on the final decision of the IOC members, Turkey’s international standing must have also played a role. Looking at the votes Turkey received in the final round, it is clear that only 10 (presumably European) countries voted for Turkey after they supported Spain in the first round. The composition of the IOC members and the 36 votes Turkey received bears important messages for Turkey’s international standing.

Although the European and North American countries (Turkey’s allies), as well as Middle Eastern (where much of Turkey’s active presence is felt) and African countries (where Turkey spends huge sums in aid operations), constitute 60 percent of the total members, Turkey received only 36 votes.
Had this voting coincided with the vote on Turkey’s bid to U.N. Security Council membership in October 2008, the result may have been different. Turkey was able to rally 151 votes in that occasion against EU-member Austria, as well as Iceland. Obviously, Turkey had a much better international standing then. Should Turkey wish to bid for the Olympics again, this side of the equation also needs to be taken care of, in addition to major problems of infrastructure and traffic.