TOKYO: Tokyo celebrated on Sunday after winning the right to host the Olympic Games for the second time, overcoming fears about radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant to land the 2020 edition of the world’s biggest sporting event.
Members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Buenos Aires chose the Japanese capital, which previously hosted the Games in 1964, over Istanbul, after Madrid was dramatically eliminated following a first-round tie with the Turkish city.
Thousands of Japanese who gathered in Tokyo in the early hours of Sunday erupted in joy, making V for victory signs and shouting “banzai!” (hurrah!) and “Tokyo!” as the result was beamed live from the Argentine capital nearly a dozen time zones away.
At the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry, crowds shouted “arigato” (thank you) in unison, several television hosts and their guests were lost for words and in tears, while at the Komazawa Olympic Park— venue of several sports at the 1964 Games—golden tinsel rained down in celebration.
“I have been waiting a long time for this feeling,” bid chief Tsunekazu Takeda said in Buenos Aires. “The members of the IOC have seen that Tokyo is a safe pair of hands.”
Tokyo city governor Naoki Inose added that the Olympics would help Japan recover from the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that claimed more than 18,000 lives and vowed no let up to create what he said would be “the best Games ever”.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had earlier flown to South America from the G20 summit in St Petersburg, Russia, to reassure nervous members about the safety of the nuclear plant some 220 kilometres (140 miles) from Tokyo amid fears about the leaking of contaminated water.
He told delegates that the situation was “under control”, adding: “It has never done or will do any damage to Tokyo.”
Concerns over Fukushima—seriously damaged by the quake and giant waves two-and-a-half years ago—had dogged the bid in the final days despite Tokyo’s branding as a safe and sound city, but Abe successfully allayed IOC members’ fears.
The final result was 60 votes for Tokyo against 36 for Istanbul.
Major Japanese television networks reported the voting in special programmes screened through the early hours, while newspapers were preparing to issue special editions to be delivered free on the streets.
The vote for Tokyo—which came third in the race for the 2016 Games won by Rio de Janeiro—means it will be the fourth time Japan plays host to the Olympics, having also organised winter Games in Nagano (1998) and Sapporo (1972).
Asia will see successive Olympics as the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang is hosting the 2018 winter edition.
Madrid had looked to be the city with the momentum coming into the final week after an outstanding presentation to IOC members in Lausanne in July, and were hoping they could go on to win.
But it was not enough, even with 28 of the 35 venues built and all the infrastructure in place plus a positive assessment by the IOC Evaluation Commission—the only IOC members allowed to visit the bid cities—over their relatively low budget.
Doubts about Spain’s recession-hit economy persisted to the end, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s pledges that financing would not pose problems failed to convince enough members.