With South Africa out, who wants in for 2020?

There's ambition. And then there's reality.

When the two collide, you get an announcement like the one Thursday from Johannesburg, the South African government saying it was not going to mount a bid for the 2020 Summer Games.

It's still very, very early in the race for 2020.

But after all-star fields for 2016 and 2012 and a historic choice for 2008, is the  International Olympic Committee looking not only at a comparatively thin field for 2020 but at a campaign dominated by European rivals?

That would make for an intriguing turn in recent Olympic history. Because it's not immediately clear who else wants in.

To be clear, this is not -- repeat, not -- a call for a 2020 entry from the United States.

There are some influential Olympic insiders who say the U.S. ought to get in the game.

Here's the opposing view:

The U.S. Olympic Committee and IOC have far too many issues to be resolved, mostly financial, for that.

Moreover, no bid can win without rock-solid support from its federal government. As the New York 2012 and Chicago 2016 bids underscored, the American system of federalism -- there's the U.S. government but there's also the 50 separate states -- renders such support a complex matter, with contractual and jurisdictional issues galore.

Beyond which, why should the U.S. government want to jump in? The last time the White House was asked for its support, the president of the United States -- for the first time in the more than 100-plus years of the modern Olympic movement -- actually appeared in person at an IOC assembly, in 2009 in Copenhagen. He spoke on behalf of an American bid city, which happened to be his hometown, Chicago. And for what? Chicago was booted in the first round.

Here were the finalists in the last three Summer Games campaigns:

2016: Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Tokyo, Chicago.

2012: London, Paris, Madrid, New York, Moscow.

2008: Beijing, Toronto, Paris, Istanbul, Osaka.

Now here is the list of declared starters for 2020:


Right this moment, that's it.

Again, it's super-early. But why aren't more cities eagerly lining up? The Summer Games is, after all, The Franchise.

It's not that there isn't a lot of talk behind the scenes. But it's just that -- talk.

Istanbul -- could be formidable contender but maybe more interested in playing host to European soccer championships?

Dubai -- big financial issues?

Tokyo -- obstacles include Pyeongchang, South Korea's, campaign for 2018 Winter Games as well as the tsunami-, earthquake- and nuclear meltdown-related issues in the northeastern part of the country.

Doha, Qatar -- amazing place, amazing story, but didn't make IOC cut for 2016, purportedly because of heat-related issues, though many close to the movement suspect it's because the Qataris might well have won if they had been allowed to advance to the knock-out round.

Know this: If the Qataris put their minds to it, they can achieve virtually anything they want. A Qatar entry in the 2020 race would alter the dynamic immediately.

That said, a 2020 Games in Doha would be before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The IOC gave the Games to Brazil in 2016 -- but after the World Cup there, in 2014.

For sure, South Africa staged a winning 2010 World Cup.

And this is key: The World Cup, for all its complexity, is but one world championship.

A Summer Olympics requires the infrastructure and logistics to stage 28 world championships (26 in London next year) -- all going on over 17 days, meaning pretty much at the same time.

Durban, where the IOC will stage the assembly in July at which the 2018 Winter Games city will be selected -- Munich and Annecy, France, are in the race along with Pyeongchang -- had been considered perhaps the likeliest South African bid city.

IOC rules forbid the members from visiting a city bidding for the Games. But if they were there for an IOC assembly -- wow, how clever that would have been to get to see Durban, right?

It would have, though, taken an estimated $4.5 billion, at least, to build the new venues Durban would have needed to stage a Games in 2020. That's money the South African government reasoned would be better spent on basic services.

The Associated Press reported the supply of such essential services was a top issue in last week's local elections in South Africa. Violent demonstrations, it reported, erupted in some communities over the lack of such basics as electricity and running water.

Frankly, saying no now gives South Africa an elegant out. The murmur had already begun in some IOC circles that it wasn't just enough to receive a bid from South Africa; it had to be a world-class bid. Now the South Africans have the luxury of time to put together such a bid.

With only that one declared entry in the 2020 field, it's understandable why that AP report from Johannesburg declared Rome the favorite to land the 2020 Games.

Um -- maybe not so fast.

The unknown is Qatar.

If for whatever reason Doha is not a factor, it surely is within the realm of possibility that the primary beneficiary of South Africa's decision not to run ultimately proves to be -- Madrid.

Madrid was the 2016 runner-up; virtually everything, with the exception of an Olympic village, is built; the financing is pretty much in place; the government support would be solid; the city is fantastic.

What Madrid needs has been missing the past two campaigns is a narrative -- a compelling story. They know now that's what they need.

The prediction here is that Madrid announces sooner than later that it's in.

And then, for 2020, it will be game on.