2020: Signals in black and white

The 2020 evaluation report the International Olympic Committee published Tuesday ran to 101 pages, without annexes, maps and so on.

This so-called technical report was finalized in April, before the unrest erupted in Istanbul, and so the IOC is in the sensitive position of having put out a document that may have already been overtaken by events. Even so, it is clear that this report describes Istanbul as a large and complex city with a widespread plan that would be more difficult to deliver than Madrid’s or Tokyo’s; that Madrid is in good shape in terms of compactness and things already being built; and that Tokyo, in terms of risk, is predictably the least problematic.

The riots and protests almost surely have enhanced the chances of the other two candidates. As Istanbul’s mayor, Kadir Topbas, said Monday, images of the violence have tarnished Turkey’s image, and if it keeps going on, “Istanbul stands to lose.”

The IOC will meet next week in Lausanne, Switzerland, to hear presentations from all three 2020 bid cities. It will pick the 2020 winner by secret ballot Sept. 7 at a session in Buenos Aires.

The challenge confronting the Istanbul bid is straightforward. As the evaluation report notes on page 9, “Istanbul 2020 aspires to reposition Turkey and to foster global understanding and inclusiveness by being the first secular Muslim country to host the Games.”

At the root of the unrest in Turkey, however, is the perception among many of the protestors of a shift away from the secular and toward the religious — that is, toward a more Islamic society.

That has to give pause to any thinking member of the IOC.

Asked on a conference call Tuesday with reporters about the violence, Istanbul 2020 bid leader Hasan Arat said, “We will be very open. Now the protests are largely calmed down. We will tell them how it starts and how it ends. We will answer any questions they have,” adding a moment later, “IOC members are very experienced, and they understand the Games are seven years away.”

At the same time, there are indeed bound to be questions.

Like — the evaluation report says in describing the Istanbul project, on page 10, “As a major user of social media, an emphasis would be placed on the use of social media, particularly with regard to engaging young people.” How, exactly, would that work in a country where the current prime minister has called Twitter a “menace,” and says, “The best example of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

Or — turning to a more regular evaluation report subject, traffic:

The transport plan for Istanbul’s 38 venues, divided into four zones and seven venues “across the city”? The bid says travel times would amount to a maximum 35 minutes. The commission? That “may be optimistic for the most distant venues.”

Istanbul’s population now totals 13 million. It’s due to grow to 16 million by 2020 with car ownership growing by 10 percent annually. Even with an expanding metro system, the commission thus “believes that the risk of road congestion during the Games remains high.”

Compare that to the language for Tokyo’s transport section: “robust.”

Note the difference in the IOC code words for the “ambitious” Istanbul opening ceremony: “close attention,” “detailed planning,” “operational complexities.”

Or the dry, non-judgmental way the report assesses the Spanish economy. It notes that in 2012 it was in recession. Then it simply cites growth rates between 2013 and 2016. Then: “the Commission believes that [the] Spanish economy should be able to support the delivery of the Games.”

This, of course, has been for many the primary concern about the Madrid campaign — and that’s all the report has to say about it, no more.

That, though, is not the most interesting take-away in this report.

Normally, evaluation commission reports tend to be so technical and analytical that many IOC members, candidly, don’t even read them.

This 2020 evaluation report, however, is — even factoring in the unrest in Turkey — worth a close read. There are, like the Istanbul traffic and the Spanish economy, signals in this document that are there to be read. Whether they ultimately prove decisive is yet to be determined, of course — but they are for sure there in black and white.

On page 68 comes a distillation of Tokyo”s finances, what’s drily called a “Hosting Reserve Fund.” That’s the $4.5 billion in cash that’s been sitting in the bank since Tokyo bid, and lost, for the 2016 Games.

Again, and for emphasis — that’s $4.5 billion, in cold cash.

That sum is held by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The national government has pledged to spend the money — estimates vary from $1.5 to $1.9 billion — needed to re-do the Olympic Stadium in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and, if Tokyo wins, the 2020 Summer Games. So that’s money that wouldn’t come out of the $4.5 billion.

As the commission notes on page 68, that $4.5 billion “exceeds the proposed amount of government funded capital expenditures associated with the Games and its presence significantly reduces the risks normally inherent in the delivery of Games infrastructure by government.”

In the very next sentence: “Furthermore, during the Commission’s visit, it was clarified that the fund, which was established at the time of Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Games and has remained in place since that time, could also be used for Olympic-related purposes not linked to construction, provided that the appropriate authorizations were obtained.”

Olympic-related purposes not linked to construction?

The mind can imagine dozens if not hundreds of uses for such a fund — all of it legal, all of it appropriately authorized.

Particularly since the report also helpfully notes that no capital investment would be requires for transport, airports, accommodation, electrical infrastructure or security.

Little wonder the Tokyo 2020 bid team adeptly put out a press release noting, among other matters, the “several references” to the “Hosting Reserve Fund” and saying it was, overall, “extremely pleased.”

 

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