Alejandro Blanco

Who do you love?


BUENOS AIRES -- As circuses go, this one is most excellent. The question: who will be the next ringleader and where is the next tent to be pitched? Here Friday morning in the corner of the Hilton Hotel lobby one could see Thomas Bach of Germany, the International Olympic Committee vice president running for the top job, talking very, very quietly with Cuba's Reynaldo González López.

A few feet away, in the main hotel lobby, Her Imperial Highness Takamado of Japan held court, meeting first with Italy's Ottavio Cinquanta, president of the international skating federation, then with His Royal Highness Prince Feisal al Hussein of Jordan.

On the big screen set up just a few more feet away, the international wrestling federation's press conference got underway, the changes the IOC had sought to see from the federation dramatically evident on the dais -- here were two female wrestlers along with the new FILA president, Serbia's Nenad Lalovic.

Speaking of royalty -- here was His Imperial Basketball Highness, the former Sacramento King, Vlade Divac, near the front door, now the president of the Serbian national Olympic committee. His luggage had been lost on the way down to Buenos Aires. What was a really tall guy to do in such a situation?

2013-09-06 15.37.18

You want a story? Every few feet, every different huddle held a different story, the soundtrack of the entire thing encapsulated in George Thorogood's brilliant tour de force: who do you love?

The scramble for votes was on in full force as the landmark 125th IOC session got underway Friday night.

The 2020 vote goes down Saturday. Tokyo and Madrid seemed the likeliest choices. That said, no one was by any means willing to rule Istanbul out, and its supporters insisted they were very much still in it.

With apologies to Divac and mixed metaphors, wrestling seemed all but a slam-dunk certainty to be reinstated in voting Sunday to the 2020 program.

Los Angeles Lakers alert! Here was Divac, who of course played for L.A. before exile to Charlotte and Sacramento and then a last season in Los Angeles. Was that Pau Gasol? The current Laker big man is part of the Madrid team.

The intrigue underpinning the sports vote: which of the other two, baseball/softball or squash, will run second? Due to a quirk in the calendar, the next IOC session comes just five months from now, in Sochi in February. An entirely plausible scenario floating in the ether had it that an exception could well be carved out -- there being a new president and all -- for the runner-up here to be added to the program come 2020.

Everyone close to the Olympic scene -- repeat, everyone -- acknowledges that the process by which wrestling was first dropped and now appears on the verge of being reinstated needs wholesale review.

If Tokyo wins, imagine how easy it would be to imagine adding baseball/softball to the program.

Or adding squash, no matter which of the cities prevails.

The presidential vote -- which trumps all others, with six candidates -- happens Tuesday. That means Monday, an off day if you will, is likely to be rife with all manner of speculation, rumor, gossip and prevarications. Joining Bach on the ballot: C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico; Ser Miang Ng of Singapore; Sergei Bubka of Ukraine; Denis Oswald of Switzerland.

IOC presidential elections have traditionally been subdued affairs. In the 24/7, TMZ-style world in which we now live, with camera crews scrambling for any image, the IOC is determined to keep it subdued.

This is the challenge:

The IOC received 1,846 media requests. A full 600 came from Japan; 300 from Spain; 180 from Turkey.

On Thursday, Bubka, the 1980s and '90s pole-vault champion who is now the head of his nation's Olympic committee and a vice president of the track and field international governing body, was sitting near where Bach would find himself Friday. When Bubka got up, that so stirred the camera crews that they madly began clicking and clacking.

This so unnerved the security and hotel staff that they thereupon drew the shades.

On Friday morning, the shades were still down.

This makes for an apt -- here comes that word again -- metaphor. The IOC votes in secret.

Thus here is the one absolute truth about such IOC elections:

The only thing predictable about an IOC election is that it is entirely unpredictable.

The candidate city votes happen every other year. The presidential vote is a generational thing -- every eight or 12 years, depending.

About the outcomes of either or both, this means -- as was sagely noted in the lobby -- the following:

Some people are guessing. Some pretend to know. Some assume. Some hope. No one knows.

A great many people are only too happy to lie, or maybe at least stretch the truth, or not just do what their kindergarten teacher would find wholesome.

Why do they act this way?

That's easy.

Because they can.

A skeptic would say the system encourages the members to be unaccountable.


In truth, one figures out fairly consistently who votes for what -- though, to be fair, not with 100 percent accuracy. The IOC is a club, and clubs have certain discretions. What keeps the members accountable is that -- this is for real -- they are accountable to each other. Because there are votes for bid cities every two years, and votes for the policy-making executive board every year, there are favors and counter-favors and so on. One screws someone else at one's peril because, sooner or later, it comes back to haunt you.

The 2018 vote, won by Pyeongchang, was a runaway, which pretty much everyone -- except for a few affiliated with runner-up Munich -- knew going in.

The 2016 vote, won by Rio de Janeiro, was also a runaway, which Rio knew, even if others did not.

This 2020 vote does not appear to have a clear favorite. Thus the tension Friday in the Hilton lobby was very, very real, and theories fast and furious.

Right now there are, including the outgoing president Jacques Rogge, 103 IOC members. He does not vote. That means the vote count is a maximum 102. It likely will prove less because some members won't show up  -- because of illness or duties of business or state -- and because of IOC rules that prevent a member from Country X for voting from a candidate from the same nation. It is widely assumed that the winning vote total here -- majority plus one -- is going to be 48 or 49.

Because the balloting is secret, the members cheerfully tell each other whatever. In tallying up support, the denominator of 100 votes can quickly seem more like 200, indeed -- laughably -- more like 300.

"I support you," in IOC jargon, it must be understood, does not mean, "I'm going to vote for you."

"You have my vote," does not mean "in a round you want me to." Or "any particular round."

Indeed, in 2009, in balloting for the 2016 Summer Games site, the U.S. Olympic Committee felt sure before voting commenced that it had more than 30 rock-solid votes in the first round for Chicago. To the USOC's surprise, Chicago was booted in the first round with but 18 votes.

This is why, as one of the presidential contenders, surveying the scene Friday mid-afternoon, said, "Who the heck knows?" And he didn't say "heck."

This was a little bit after Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, the head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, walked in the lobby and the center of gravity seemed to shift, all eyes turning the sheik's direction. As has been speculated many times since he has become one of the Olympic world's most influential figures, with no definitive answer: how many votes does his excellency truly "control"? Any? Many?

As for the sheikh and 2020:

Does he support Tokyo? After all, he is also the longtime head of the Olympic Council of Asia. Within Olympic circles, it is hardly a secret that Tsunekazu Takeda, Japan's IOC member and the leader of the Tokyo 2020 bid, has been known to ride with the sheikh to important meetings on the sheikh's private plane.

Does he back Madrid? He and Alejandro Blanco, the head of the Spanish Olympic Committee, are known to be close through an association with Marius Vizer, president of the International Judo Federation and, as well, the recently elected head of SportAccord, the umbrella organization for the international sports federations.

Or might the sheikh prefer Istanbul? An Istanbul win probably knocks Doha, Qatar, out of the running for the Summer Games for many years. Given the intricacies of politics in the Middle East, might the sheikh find that a play worth exploring?

The sheikh is believed to be a supporter of Bach's presidential candidacy. Ultimately -- will he be?

The sheikh likes, most of all, winning.

Actually, two more things can be said for certain about an IOC election:

One, Fidel Castro's son, Antonio, is here, lobbying for the baseball/softball project. His translator speaks English so beautifully that Shakespeare himself might want to give a listen.

Two, Sheikh Ahmad controls his own vote.


2020: Madrid's day to surge


LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Four years ago, the bid team for Rio de Janeiro's campaign for the 2016 Summer Games came here and unveiled The Map. It was so simple, so breathtakingly elegant, so powerful.  In a single stroke of unassailable logic, it showed it all: the Olympic Games had never been to South America.

Three months later, when the International Olympic Committee convened in Copenhagen to vote for the site of the 2016 Games, Rio rolled to a runaway win.

On Wednesday, the three candidates for the 2020 Summer Games -- Istanbul, Tokyo, Madrid -- took their chances for the first time before the full IOC, each hoping to generate the same sort of lightning that jolted Rio.

There was no vote Wednesday. That will come Sept. 7, at another all-members assembly in Buenos Aires. Instead, the idea Wednesday was, again, elemental -- to spark momentum and roll to Argentina.

Madrid 2020 Presentation

All three candidates were judged to have performed well by the IOC members. But -- the clear surge Wednesday went to Madrid.

As Alejandro Blanco, the head of the Madrid 2020 bid had put it in a briefing Tuesday with a small group of reporters, "I hope people look into our eyes and see the true passion we have," and by all accounts that's exactly what happened -- the Madrid bid jolted by the appearance on stage of Crown Prince Felipe, who drew wide praise for his energy, enthusiasm and, moreover, elegance in simply telling the IOC, "Madrid 2020 makes sense."

Madrid had been thought by some -- who never did understand the dynamic -- to be lagging in this three-way race.  After Wednesday -- no way.

Then again, this is July. September is still two months away. And as Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., Spain's executive board member, cautioned, what happened Wednesday amounts in the vote column to, as he put it, "nada."

On hand Wednesday were 86 of the 100 members; a handful more are due in Thursday, when the six presidential contenders will make presentations and the IOC will also pick the site of the 2018 Youth Games from among Buenos Aires, Glasgow and Medellin, Colombia.

Some 530 accredited reporters and camera crews were also on the scene at the Beaulieu congress hall, up from 160 at the similar event four years ago. Seventy percent of the 530: Japanese.

There could be no single grand gesture Wednesday like The Map.

There's no geographical singularity at issue in the 2020 race like there was in 2016. Beyond that, the world has changed considerably in four years. Indeed, the dynamics of this race have changed profoundly over the last several weeks, tied to the fluidity of the situation in Turkey.

Once the three finalists were announced, the 2020 race has always been -- even before the unrest in Turkey -- in the first instance a referendum on Istanbul. Do the members want to continue the trend of going to "new horizons" -- say, Korea (Winter 2018) Brazil (Summer 2016), Russia (Winter 2014) China (Summer 2008)?

Implicit in such a move are big construction projects. Istanbul comes with a roughly $19 billion infrastructure bill.

Or does the IOC want to go to a more traditional venue, with lower capital costs? Tokyo, site of the 1964 Games, comes with a $4.9 infrastructure bill. Madrid, bidding for a third straight time -- and of course Barcelona played host to the 1992 Summer Olympics -- is stretching the envelope with a radically low $1.9 billion infrastructure tab. It's that low because, over the course of the prior two bids, pretty much everything there already got built.

For Istanbul, the direction Wednesday was clear. Despite everything, there of course remains  sentiment for the Turkish bid. For those members who might be leaning the Istanbul way -- the trick was to offer sufficient assurance, if not reassurance, that everything not only is would but would be OK, in time reassurance theoretically translating into votes.

This must be understood: in the complex domino-world of IOC bidding, a vote for Istanbul takes Doha and Qatar out of the running for the Olympics, perhaps for a generation, and it's abundantly plain there are those within the IOC who simply do not understand -- or who are outright threatened by -- the potential of the Qatari wealth.

All the presentations Wednesday were offered in closed session so word of what happened is, at best, reliable hearsay -- the IOC opting, despite vows of best-practices and good-governance transparency, not to make the show available on a closed-circuit feed to the nearby media room. During the Istanbul presentation itself, the protests and violence were only slightly mentioned. In the Q&A that immediately followed, the members offered no questions on the topic.

As the members mingled at the IOC coffee break immediately after, the buzz was whether Istanbul had just effected a most sophisticated move -- or not.

At the news conference that ensued thereafter, Ali Babacan, a deputy prime minister for economic and financial affairs, asserted that "non-violent peaceful protest is a very basic human right" and the government "has no problem with that" but does take issue with what he called "some illegal organizations … in the crowd." He also said, "Our police maybe made some mistakes."

On the matter of social media -- Turkish prime minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan has called Twitter a "menace" -- Babacan said, "We have to drive good policies, inclusive policies" but cautioned that government is concerned such new media is "not used for illegal purposes, it is not used for bad purposes."

How this jibes with free speech rights in a liberal democracy, of course, remains uncertain.

In a later interview, Babacan said, referring again to the protests, "It is very natural in any democracy, these things happen. Every incident is a good excuse to learn from, to upgrade our practices, whether it's about freedoms or fundamental rights or so forth. It's a changing country, we shouldn't forget that. It's a changing country, an evolving country, moving for better and better."

He also said that Erdogan -- who, according to most accounts, is the government voice that matters in Turkey -- would be in Buenos Aires: "He is going to be our chief." And he noted that Erdogan, before turning to politics, used to play soccer. The deputy noted of the prime minister, "He is very into sports."

The Japanese came next, unveiling a government-sponsored initiative dubbed "Sport for Tomorrow" comprised of overseas projects aimed at promoting the Olympic movement, the creation of a Japan-based international sports academy and support for the World Anti-Doping Agency.

What the Japanese have -- no problem -- is money. They have a $4.5 billion reserve fund, cash, sitting in the bank.

What they also can tout is security. "The other day my daughter lost her wallet," the Tokyo governor, Naoki Inose, said Tuesday. "It contained $600. The wallet came back. And it contained the cash in the wallet."

What's at issue is whether they can convey to the IOC the passion they assuredly feel, and in particular the way the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan have served as a catalyst for the bid, and indeed the entire country.

Takeda, proclaiming that Japan's "affected areas are now rising," said that by "maintaining your hopes and dreams, you can rise again," adding, "We can show the world … that is the power of sport … by giving them hopes and dreams through the power of sport, it is possible to rise up."

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The Madrid team closed the day.

The Spanish capital would have to build only four new permanent venues and three temporary sites. In the world of Olympic bids, this is a novel approach, indeed. Because of the bids for 2012 and 2016, "The promises made then are today realities," Samaranch Jr. explained.

The Madrid bid was presented with but five questions from the IOC members. None dealt with the Spanish economy -- a notion perhaps unthinkable perhaps even six months ago.

"A realistic bid for realistic times," Blanco said at the news conference following their presentation. He also offered an extraordinarily fresh take that perhaps ought to be the new 21st-century template for what the Games should be: "Many years ago [the talk was of] the globalization of the Olympic movement," adding, "The true globalization comes today from television. The Games have to be a reality of the country, a reality of the world in which we live. Madrid presented a bid that is compact and a reality of the times in which we live."

On top of all that came the appearance on stage of the crown prince, the honorary Madrid 2020 president, an Olympian and Spain's flag-bearer at the 1992 Barcelona Games. One IOC member called the prince, who told the members he wanted Spain to again feel "promise and hope," the "star performer of the day."

"Whatever the goalposts were, he moved them," the member said.

Added Craig Reedie, the chairman of the IOC 2020 evaluation commission, emphasizing that he was observing, not endorsing, Madrid "lifted their game."

Two months now until the vote in Buenos Aires. Only one thing matters.

As Masato Mizuno, the Tokyo 2020 vice president and chief executive put it in a comment that could apply to all three bids, "We have to get more votes. We have to work hard from now until Sept. 7."


2020: playing the safe card


ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Tokyo 2020's Yuki Ota, a two-time silver medalist in fencing, bounded across the stage and said to the crowd, with enormous energy and enthusiasm, "It is great to be back in St. Petersburg," where he had competed in 2007. Everyone laughed, and he had them from there as he said, "I can promise that Tokyo 2020 will see your sports shine." A few moments later, Jaime García-Legaz, at the lectern for Madrid 2020, tackled the pink elephant in the room head-on -- the Spanish economy. His nation's minister of commerce and international trade, García-Legaz noted that the International Monetary Fund and others project "steady" economic growth for Spain in the next five years, adding, "The fundamentals of the Spanish economy are strong and deep."

Meanwhile, the Turkish minister for youth and sport, Suat Kiliç, his tie knotted just so and his pocket square sitting just right, said in an interview after confidently rocking his presentation, "We believe Istanbul will deliver a unique chance. Not just for the Olympic movement but for global peace."

Two-time fencing silver medalist Yuki Ota (far left) and the Tokyo 2020 bid team

With precisely 100 days to go before the International Olympic Committee selects the 2020 site, the three cities in the race took their presentations public Thursday for the first time, throwing the race  into a fresh phase -- not only revealing strategies but minting personalities likely to frame this campaign homestretch.

The IOC will vote by secret ballot Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires.

Intriguingly, each of the three cities sought to play the safe card -- that is, asserting that it could best offer the IOC financial security in these uncertain economic times.

Given that the three offer wildly divergent construction budgets, each came at the notion Thursday on stage from wholly different approaches.

Each also struck a markedly different tone.

Istanbul, bidding for the fifth time, its first time as an "emerged nation," according to campaign leader Hasan Arat, sought Thursday to highlight the allure of a Games that would go for the first time to a nation with a Muslim majority and that literally and figuratively bridges Europe and Asia.

"You have one city where you see the sun rise on two continents," Arat said.

"We have a city that bridges light and shade, old and new, east and west," Kiliç said. "Istanbul shines like a diamond." At that, up came a short film accompanied by the Rihanna hit "Diamonds."

Mostly, though, the emphasis was this: Istanbul's $19.2 billion infrastructure plan would, according to Kiliç and Arat, be worry-free.

Over the past 10 years, Turkey's economic growth has averaged more than 5 percent annually, Kiliç said. It is now the 16th-largest economy in the world, projected to be in the top-10 -- as ranked by gross domestic product -- by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish republic.

As a sign of how things are booming in Istanbul, Kiliç pointed out, just Wednesday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan broke ground on a third bridge over the Bosphorus strait -- a structure that will be the longest combined road and railway bridge in the world, with a combined capacity of 270,000 cars, scheduled for completion by the end of 2016, at a cost, privately funded, of $4.5 billion.

The bridge was not included, incidentally, as part of the $19.2 billion in the bid file -- the tender process had still been ongoing.

Arat asserted, "This week our focus has been risk-free delivery, proving that we are ready to be perfect partners."

Madrid's infrastructure budget would be one-tenth Istanbul's: $1.9 billion. Eighty percent of its venues are already in place -- this being Madrid's third bid in a row.

Simply put," the bid's chief executive, Victor Sanchez, said, "Madrid 2020 makes sense."

He added, "We will have zero white elephants, only four new permanent venues and three temporary venues. All are already budgeted for and fully guaranteed."

Added Alejandro Blanco, the bid's president, "Madrid 2020 is not a bid of dreams -- we've already built them."

García-Legaz, on stage in a clear bid to evoke memories of Brazil's central banker, Henrique Meirelles, key to Rio de Janeiro's winning 2009 campaign for the 2016 Summer Games, said real data shows that Spain leads export growth in the Euro area, with an expected increase of 4.2 percent, compared to 3.3 percent for Germany.

Moreover, Spain will have the second-highest balance of payments surplus in the coming years among the five biggest European economies, behind only Germany.

Meanwhile, in a clever turn, Marisol Casado, the president of the International Triathlon Union, began the Madrid 2020 presentation with this introduction, "I am one of the three IOC members from Spain," a fact that remarkably gets little play but may ultimately prove significant.

Madrid can work the room with Carisol; José Perurena López, president of the International Canoe Federation; and Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the IOC executive board member.

Turkey has one IOC member, Dr. Ugur Erdener, president of the international archery federation.

Similarly, Japan has just one active member, Tsunekazu Takeda.

In a vivid contrast from the often-dull affect of the Tokyo 2016 bid, it wasn't just Ota who on Thursday was pumped up.

Takeda's passion for the project was vividly on display. So, too, Tokyo governor Naoki Inose, bid chief executive Masato Mizuno and the others.

The connection that the Japanese team forged with the audience was notable -- and from the get-go, with Takeda, at the lectern, extending "best wishes" to the "European cities of Istanbul and Madrid," then noting, "We are proud to carry the hopes of Asia," home to "more than one billion young people."

When the Japanese team came home last summer from London, half a million people took to the streets in welcome. "Imagine that passion in 2020," Ota said, and as the closed-circuit camera panned to the audience around the LenExpo Center, heads nodded all around.

Tokyo's construction budget: $4.9 billion.

The message from the Japanese: "certain delivery," because as they have noted time and again, they have $4.5 billion of it already squirreled away in the bank, just sitting there. If it were a country, Inose said, Tokyo's economy alone would almost make the global top-10.

Moreover, he said, Tokyo is itself safe -- a different kind of clever tack in a world where security issues are always at issue. "If you lose something," Inose said, "many times it returns to your hands, including [the] cash."

In concluding, Takeda made his pitch: "In these uncertain times, Tokyo offers certainty. You can have total confidence that we will deliver."

Then, continuing slyly: "In a city that bridges and unites two global cultures, east and west -- and which will connect with all five continents.

"Tokyo 2020 will be Games that reach new generations in these challenging and fast-changing times for sport."



Madrid's intriguing test: is IOC ready to listen?


MADRID -- This is of course a thoroughly developed city, rich in history and culture. Indeed, it is the only major European capital never to have played host to the Games. By combination of circumstance, economic and otherwise, Madrid's bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics has put itself more or less at the metaphorical point of the spear.

It represents nothing short of a test case, perhaps even a clash of philosophies, because it seeks to re-frame in a significant way for the Summer Games the idea of what Olympic "legacy" should be about in these early years of the 21st century.

"We were greatly impressed by what we saw," the chairman of the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission, Britain's Sir Craig Reedie, told a packed news conference here Thursday evening after a four-day site visit.

Tokyo and Istanbul are the other two candidates in the 2020 race. The IOC will pick the winner Sept. 7 in a vote in Buenos Aires.

The commission heads next week to Istanbul. It visited Tokyo at the beginning of the month, where Reedie proclaimed the panel was "hugely impressed."

Sir Craig Reedie, left, chairman of the IOC evaluation commission, and Gilbert Felli, the IOC's Games executive director, at the closing news conference // photo courtesy Madrid 2020

"If you want to translate 'hugely' into 'greatly,' or the other way around," he said Thursday, immediately launching betting pools on what adverb will prove suitable in Istanbul, because the news conference Thursday capped a tour of one of the most intriguing propositions presented in recent years for IOC consideration.

Of course, the question is whether the IOC is anywhere ready to listen.

To explain:

Spain is in the midst of recession, its second in three years. The unemployment rate stands at 26 percent.

This, though, marks Madrid's third straight bid for the Summer Olympics. Say what?

The reality is that, over the past several years, even though the 2012 and 2016 bids came up short, nearly everything they would need to put on an Olympics is already built -- 28 of 35 venues. The huge T4 terminal at the airport opened just seven years ago. Subway lines have been extended. All of that.

Thus Madrid's infrastructure budget for 2020 is $1.9 billion, which by Olympic standards is remarkably low.

For comparison, Tokyo's capital costs: $4.9 billion. Istanbul's: $19.2 billion, or 10 times the Madrid figure.

In recent bid cycles, the IOC has bought into the notion that "legacy" means big construction projects that leave tangible reminders afterward that the Olympics were there: Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Sochi 2014, Rio 2016.

The issue is that these projects also tend to come with huge cost over-runs (Sochi, where the bill is now known to be north of $50 billion). They also tend to run to delay (Rio, where the IOC is pushing hard to keep things on track). And then those reminders not atypically sit empty afterward (Athens, Beijing). Or just get torn down (the bobsled track in Torino, after being built for the 2006 Games at a cost of $100 million).

Around the world, many cities in developed nations -- even if they don't have 28 of 35 -- already have some combination of the things that Madrid has, ready to go, like, right now. The Madrid team showed the local flavor this week to the evaluation commission.

The commission saw one of the world's best tennis facilities, the Caja Mágica.

Golf? The Club de Campo course, around since 1932, with stunning views of the city.

Equestrian? La Zarzuela, the hippodrome in existence since 1936 and still looking fresh.

Traffic? In rush hour Wednesday evening, it was all of 15 minutes, door to door, from the Caja Mágica back to the IOC hotel, the Eurostars Madrid Tower.

You'd think, particularly since this is a third-time bid and the IOC rewards persistence (see, Pyeongchang, winners for 2018 after coming up short for 2014 and 2010), this might be an easy sell.

You'd think some of the IOC members might even have noticed that their president, Jacques Rogge, was quoted as saying Sunday in El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, that the economic crisis "won't affect Madrid 2020 because 80 percent of the facilities are already built."

Here, they were almost giddy about that quote. Not so fast. The president doesn't vote in the bid city elections and he was for sure not publicly favoring Madrid nor sending out a signal; he was just saying, in his way, facts are facts.

The only thing for sure about Madrid 2020 is that this is March and the election is September.

For Madrid's bid, the language barrier remains a challenge, perhaps formidable. They mostly speak Spanish. The IOC mostly moves in English.

The layers of bureaucracy here can sometimes prove a struggle.

The Operation Puerto doping matter hardly is going to disappear before Sept. 7. "It has been a problem for Spain. It is a problem for Spain," Alejandro Blanco, the president of both the Spanish Olympic Committee and Madrid 2020, acknowledged Wednesday in an interview with a small group of international reporters.

The economic issue remains, candidly, significant. Who knows how good or bad circumstances are going to be on Sept. 7? Any prediction for conditions seven years from now is just a guess. Trying to convince 55 members of the IOC to have confidence you have money to do something -- even when you say you for sure have it -- is, well, a confidence game.

And re-purposing the idea of "legacy" as something other than buildings on the ground is going to take a profound articulation of what the Olympic movement is about in the year 2013, and where it is headed by 2020.

If, though, Madrid and Spain can do it, it might well open the door wide open to bids in the coming years from all over the world, including the United States, where Michelle Obama has been pushing her "let's move" campaign. Because then there would be undeniable proof that "legacy" doesn't just mean throwing up a new Olympic Park in your town.

Vancouver, it must be noted, won for 2010 with much this same argument. But that vote was already 10 years ago; it hasn't proven compelling since; and it was for the Winter Games.

The Summer Games -- and in Europe, the IOC's traditional base -- would send an entirely different signal to the world.

"The Games proposition in Madrid is very different from any other proposition for the Summer Games in recent history," Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., Spain's member to the IOC executive board, said -- in English -- in a conversation Tuesday with a small group of reporters.

"Here in Spain, we are at the bottom, or near the bottom, of [the] economic crisis. With little further investment -- let me repeat the No. 1 point, $1.9 billion over a seven-year period -- we would be able to generate a significant economic growth.

"Economic growth -- you probably already know, it's not just about numbers, it's about sentiment. What this country needs very, very much is sentiment at this stage. The moral boost and the moral effect that might have, we believe, would be extraordinary. I am very confident that is the pill, one of the medicines, we need at this stage."

At Thursday's news conference, Blanco -- speaking in Spanish -- said, "All we really want to say to the IOC is, 'Trust us, because we are ready and our Games will be great Games.' "

On Wednesday, meeting with a small group of international reporters, he was far more expansive. He said, "The great legacy we are trying to obtain through these Games is not about improving our sports performances or our results or the organization of events. It's about sport transforming the life of people in this country."

A moment later, he asked rhetorically, "What is sport?" Again speaking in Spanish, his remarks translated to English, he answered, the philosophy underpinning the bid fully and clearly on display:

"Of course it is physical activity. As well, it is just that, it is health, it is education, it is culture, it is work, it is social affairs. In any country, sport should be mainstreamed right across six or seven ministries, at least.

"That is the whole point. Sport is so important in any country. Sport can't be straight-jacketed or pigeon-holed into one specific ministry. Sport runs right across the whole country.

"I think for all of us here, and I mean for all of us, the most important legacy we can leave from these Games is an education in healthy living and healthy habits -- that young people will then learn about respect and hard work. That is far more important than winning another 10 or 12 medals."

He paused, then added one more thought:

"Results in sport for any country go through ups and downs, certainly. You win some, you lose some. But if sport is to become part of life in a country's society, there's no ups and downs there at all. That must be a firm upward track, always."



Madrid: Games as hope to city, country that needs it

MADRID --- Despite the economic hammering this country has taken, an International Olympic Committee survey indicates 76 percent of local residents want the 2020 Summer Olympics and 81 percent throughout Spain, the Madrid 2020 bid team saying at a Tuesday evening news conference that such figures show the Games offer a measure of hope to a city and country that wants and needs it. The poll numbers stayed relatively even from from IOC survey results released last May, which showed 78 percent support for the Games in Madrid and the surrounding area. That polling remained consistent, even as the Spanish economy remains mired in recession, Spain's second in three years, with the nation's unemployment rate at one in four, is proof indeed of the power of the Olympic spirit, bid leaders asserted.

"During a crisis," said Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee and Madrid 2020, as "everything is being questioned," when "you see a poll that says 81 percent of all citizens in Spain support this and 76 percent of Madrid residents support it, that's not to be laughed at."

The bid, he said, has three easy-to-understand big-picture non-sports goals:

One, to improve the image of Spain. Two, to attract foreign investment. Three, jobs. "Keeping that in mind," Blanco said, "looking at the support we are receiving -- it's major."

Madrid is competing against Tokyo and Istanbul in this 2020 race. The IOC will select the winner Sept. 7 at a vote in Buenos Aires.

Tokyo's poll showed 70 percent support, up 23 points from 47 percent last year, the evaluation commission said when it was there two weeks ago.

Current public support levels in Istanbul will be released next week when the IOC commission visits there. The IOC poll last year showed 73 percent support for the Games.

Margin of error, survey methodology and other data are due to be outlined when the evaluation commission report is made public in advance of the IOC's July all-members meeting on the 2020 race at its Lausanne, Switzerland, headquarters.

The release of the poll results came as Spain's IOC executive board member, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., walked the commission Tuesday through perhaps the key element in the Madrid bid, the financial details underpinning what they are calling here their "prudent" and "financially responsible" Games model.

Because this is Madrid's third straight bid, and because so much that would be needed to stage the Games has already been built, construction costs are -- by Olympic standards -- a relatively low $1.9 billion. Tokyo's estimated construction bill: $4.9 billion. Istanbul's: $19.2 billion, or a full 10 times Madrid's.

Over the course of those three bids, Samaranch said, Madrid has spent perhaps $100 million. Further, billions have been spent in infrastructure in and around the city. "Madrid's transformation has been considerable," Mayor Ana Botella echoed.

Of course, Samaranch said, everyone knows the Spanish economy is having it rough. But, Samaranch said in an interview with a small group of international journalists, "The truth of the matter is that ...  for Spain to continue bidding for the Games -- it is an act of responsibility.

"We have put in the money. It would be hugely and vastly irresponsible to walk out now and not wait there and get the financial and economic and social return of all the money we have invested and paid for already.

"Contrary to other bids, to other cities, like Rome that said we can't afford it," bowing out of the 2020 race last year, "in our case, we can not afford not to continue. You have invested all that money and you are ready to walk out and let go before trying to get what it brings, the windfall? We believe it's our perseverance, financially and from an economic point of view -- [to continue] is an act of responsibility."

photo courtesy Madrid 2020

Meanwhile, as a steady rain lashed the city Tuesday, the evaluation commission toured what would be Olympic Stadium, the aquatics center and several other sports pavilions.

The mayor said later, with a smile, "It's good news that it's raining. The level of the dams has risen. Therefore the visit of the evaluation commission has brought us the rain which is always good for our city."

Blanco, also smiling, said, "We scheduled the rain as of 6:30," meaning p.m. "It started as of 1:30. We got it slightly wrong."

Madrid 0319-3

Here is the what the inside of the stadium -- built in 1994, site of a Bruce Springsteen show in May, 2003 - looks like now:

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The bill to re-do the stadium for Olympic purposes: $210 million.

And here is the aquatics center, just a few steps away:

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The aquatics center up-do would cost about $70 million.

"We have done [the] investment [and now] we need to see if we can put into value -- know, it's billions of dollars. Building an airport, extending the subway system, building the stadiums, building the Magic Box [stadium] for tennis, all that investment that has been done," Samaranch said.

"Many candidates, they think that if I get the Games I will do the improvement. Madrid did it the other way around -- continue to improve the city in order to get the Games."