Shinzo Abe

A good day for the Olympics: Mr. Bach goes to the White House

A good day for the Olympics: Mr. Bach goes to the White House

You can like Donald Trump. You can not like Donald Trump. To be clear: I did not vote for the gentleman. Whatever. When the president of the United States of America meets with the president of the International Olympic Committee at the White House, that is a good day for the Olympic movement.

Let us all understand the gravity of what happened Thursday. Put emotion aside. Think strategically. What is in the best interest of the Olympic movement, and of the IOC? Answer: having good relations with the governments of the world. Russia is a great country and a great Olympic power. China is a great country and a great Olympic power. But, people, let’s be real.

On Mr. Trump and double standards: let's all chillax

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Everybody: chillax.

And while you’re at it, the time has come for everybody — this means you, you and especially you — to start thinking, and hard, about why it is that there’s such an obvious, ridiculous and totally unfair double standard when it comes to evaluating American bids for events such as the Olympics and soccer’s World Cup.

In the aftermath of President Donald J. Trump’s executive order on Friday imposing travel restrictions on certain countries, you might have thought — especially reading Twitter and the mainstream media Kool-Aid — that the freaking sky was falling.

The Los Angeles 2024 Summer Games bid: imperiled if not dead.

The notion of an American bid for the 2026 soccer World Cup: wounded, maybe fatally.

These assertions betray a wild miscalculation if not a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s at issue.

Moreover: a fevered rush to judgment never serves anyone or anything.

Deep breath.

First things first: the International Olympic Committee vote on the 2024 race isn’t until September 13 in Lima, Peru. Paris and Budapest are also in the race. Eight months from now is an eternity.

To speculate now, in January, about what might happen in September because of what Mr. Trump did in January is pointless.

Let’s all remember that our French friends have their own national elections in the spring. If Marine le Pen wins, will there be similar freak-out? If François Fillon wins, will the French trade unions go berserk and the threat of trade union uprisings threaten a Paris 2024 candidacy? Look, will Mr. Fillon even stay in the race? He has said in recent days he would drop out if he were criminally investigated over allegations, much reported on in the French press, that his wife was paid for parliamentary work she did not do.

Let’s say Madame le Pen wins. Just for the hypothetical. Is that the reason to vote up or down on Paris?

Or Viktor Orban, the populist prime minister of Hungary. He has said, “We have to change and make Europe great again.” That verbiage sounds — vaguely familiar. Does that make him the devil? Is he the reason a Budapest bid ought to soar or go down in flames?

If not — why is Mr. Trump being held to a different, and entirely unfair, double standard?

Here are Mr. Trump's words from his January 20 inauguration:

"We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world -- but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first," and that is an unchallengeable truth.

He followed, "We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow."

Let’s put the core of this right out there: you don’t have to like Mr. Trump. It does not matter whether you, you or especially you like the new president.

Repeat, and for emphasis: it does not matter.

Here is what matters:

Many of the members of the IOC like, or are inclined to like, Mr. Trump. Especially the IOC president, Thomas Bach. He likes Mr. Trump just fine.

Whoa.

While you are processing that, this:

Mr. Trump is the duly elected president of the United States. Advice: if he’s not your cup of tea, pour yourself a shot of bourbon or vodka or, if you prefer, pop a Xanax and proceed, quickly, through the five stages of grief and get to acceptance. Like, now.

Repeat: Donald J. Trump is the president of the United States. The American people elected him.

If you think Trump is the antichrist, you have a very short memory when it comes to Barack Obama in the international sports sphere, starting with that disaster of a show in Copenhagen in 2009 on behalf of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid followed by the delegations to Sochi 2014 led by gay athletes including the tennis star Billie Jean King and, in short order, the overreach of American executive power in the form of the FIFA indictments and an investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn of doping by Russian athletes, as if the United States would or should have any interest whatsoever in doping in Russia.

Imagine if the tables were turned and the Russian federal police and prosecutors launched a purportedly doping-related investigation there of American athletes on the grounds that, say, American high jumpers had violated Russian banking laws. That’s a laugh.

At any rate:

Do you like Vladimir Putin?

What about Xi Jinping?

Do you like the Russian system of government? What about the way they do things in China? Would you consider China, even as “open” as it is now, autocratic or not? For that matter, Russia?

Let’s have a little straw vote here: would you rather, all things considered, live in the United States, Russia or China?

The 2014 Winter Games went to Sochi, with Mr. Putin making a personal appearance before the voting members of the IOC at an assembly in Guatemala.

Beijing is the first city on Planet Earth that will play host to both the Summer Games, 2008, and the Winter Games, 2022.

So — pretty clear that being Mr. Putin or Mr. Xi is not a bid killer. Yet being Mr. Trump ought to be?

Let’s have another little vote.

Would you rather, all things considered, live in Russia, Qatar or the United States?

Soccer’s World Cup will be in Russia in 2018.

And in Qatar in 2022.

Back to the news — because the president, who campaigned on a promise to implement immigration reform, took a first step in so doing, the United States is suddenly a pariah?

That logic does not hold.

To be clear: the order suspends entry of all refugees to the United State for 120 days, bars Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocks entry into the country for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

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This is why maybe just pausing before hitting that “send” button can sometimes be helpful, even for someone as thoughtful and well-intentioned as Mr. Peterkin, who is an IOC member from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.

As the Washington Post reported Saturday, “Officials tried to reassure travelers and their families, pointing out that green-card holders in the United States will not be affected and noting that [homeland security officials are] allowed to grant waivers to those individuals and others deemed to not pose a security threat.”

The story adds, noting that details were for sure still being worked out and waivers would be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” and quoting an unnamed official, “If you’ve been living in the United States for 15 years and you own a business and your family is here, will you be granted a waiver? I’m assuming yes, but we are working that out.”

Wait — amid the tweets and corresponding rip jobs of the president of the United States, who was elected first and foremost to secure the safety and well-being of the people, and moved Friday to implement an initial, temporary strategy that he and his advisors deemed appropriate, this:

Where are the similarly heated complaints or observations about — just to pick one — France?

France has been under a “state of emergency” since the attacks in Paris in November 2015 that killed 130 people. Last month, the French parliament last month extended that state of emergency through July 2017, the interior minister warning ahead of the parliamentary vote that the country faced an “extremely high” risk of another attack.

Why not the same — or worse — outrage about a “state of emergency” now lasting almost two full years? In a western democracy?

Beyond which:

What does any of this, in theory, have to do with sport?

Answer: zero.

For those of you who would prefer to be idealists: isn’t the whole notion of the Olympics that sport can bring the world together, at least for 17 days?

“We are working closely with the administration to understand the new rules and how we best navigate them as it pertains to visiting athletes,” U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said Saturday. “We know they are supportive of the Olympic movement, and our bid, and believe we will have a good working relationship with them to ensure our success in hosting and attending events.”

Would you know that from reading, for instance, the New York Times?

In a story published Saturday, the Times’ Jere Longman, an excellent newsman and a longtime colleague, quotes the historian David Wallechinsky, also a longtime colleague, as saying that Mr. Trump is perceived in Olympic circles as “anti-Muslim, anti-woman and anti-Latino.”

Wallechinsky then goes on to say of the president’s executive order, “This is worse. I would consider it a blow to the Los Angeles bid — not fatal but a blow.”

Oh — as if Mr. Putin, who has waged a war in Chechnya, is considered pro-Muslim?

Or Qatar or China, just to pick two, are havens for women’s rights?

Admittedly the United States is imperfect. Any country is. But which country has maybe, just maybe, made more progress in advancing the rights of women in the workplace and other spheres — China, Russia, Qatar or the United States?

As far as the IOC goes:

Right now the United States has three IOC members. There’s Larry Probst. And then there are Anita DeFrantz and Angela Ruggiero, and she is the current chair of the athlete’s commission.

France, two members, both men: Guy Drut. Tony Estanguet.

Hungary: two men. Pal Schmitt. Daniel Gyurta.

Would it maybe have been relevant, journalistically speaking, if Longman had mentioned that Wallechinsky, who is assuredly one of the world’s foremost Olympic historians, is also a noted compiler of published lists such as “world’s worst dictators”? Maybe an informed guess how Wallechinsky views the new president?

Beyond which:

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had a phone call on Saturday — initiated by Mr. Putin, according to the White House. The call lasted for an hour. Mr. Trump also spoke Saturday with leaders of Australia, France, Germany and Japan.

Where was the major diplomatic blowback? Hello?

Just to name one: did the prime minister of the United Kingdom criticize Mr. Trump? Uh, no.

Sure, the president of France did. But who cares? He’s about as popular in France as an “I’m with Her” button would be a White House staff meeting, and everybody knows it.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed Saturday to meet with Mr. Trump during a visit to Washington on Feb. 10. The next Summer Games are in Tokyo, in 2020. So interesting.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Bach have — since the November election —already spoken by phone. Mr. Bach, since taking office in September 2013, has met with more than 100 heads of government of state — but did not meet with Mr. Obama. Odds are good that Mr. Trump will meet, and probably sooner than later, with Mr. Bach.

Mr. Bach is, of course, on good terms with Mr. Putin.

Mr. Bach knows full well that the Olympic movement needs the United States right now. That’s why he made a trip to California last year, to Silicon Valley. The movement needs the creativity of California to reach the youth audience that keeps the Olympics relevant and material. What is the IOC’s major initiative right now? The Olympic Channel. Who produces more influential content than anyone anywhere? California — Hollywood, Snapchat, Google, Facebook, Apple.

Mr. Bach knows, too, that with recent budget headaches — Rio, Sochi, London, Beijing — the IOC has to take a very, very considered look at a Los Angeles Games for 2024, where everything is mostly built, the city has a two-time legacy of producing big-time and inventive Games, the locals want the Olympics and absent colossal and unpredictable disaster the Games will make everyone involved, as Sean Penn’s character said in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, beaucoup dollares.

Mr. Bach knows, too, that this is LA’s time. Bid leader Casey Wasserman scared up $35 million to fund a 2024 bid. He can’t go back to those donors if the IOC turns LA down for ’24 and say, let’s try again. Won’t happen.

Beyond which:

Let’s say you’re Mr. Trump. Let’s say the IOC turns LA down the way it did Chicago for 2016 and New York for 2012.

It would state the obvious to note that the new president has shown he is plainly willing to play hardball.

Repeatedly, too, he has expressed interest in the tax scheme.

It is not hard to figure out, not difficult indeed, that if the IOC shoots down LA for 2024, there might well be an inclination at the White House to say, OK, let’s take a very hard look, right now, at the tax status of all the IOC’s American-based top-tier sponsors.

Everybody: chillax.

It's Tokyo for 2020

BUENOS AIRES -- Tokyo won the race for the 2020 Summer Games Saturday, capping one of the unusual, unnerving and indeed unsettling contests in International Olympic Committee history. In the second round of voting, Tokyo prevailed over Istanbul, 60-36.

Istanbul had moved into the final round of voting only after surviving a tie-breaker with Madrid in the first round. The tally: Tokyo 42, Istanbul and Madrid 26-26.

In the run-off, Istanbul defeated Madrid, 49-45.

Istanbul had been left for dead by most who did not understand the complexities and nuance of IOC voting, especially with the interlocking influences of Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah and Tuesday's presidential election, in which Germany's Thomas Bach is favored among five other candidates.

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Part one of the domino chain -- a Tokyo victory.

Part two -- making sure Istanbul was not embarrassed. Four years ago, it was Tokyo that had to be spared embarrassment, leaving Chicago to a first-round exit.

Part three is due to play out Tuesday, and of course it now remains very much to be seen whether Bach, the sheikh and others can execute successfully.

All along, meanwhile, Tokyo had promised the IOC a "safe pair of hands" in a world increasingly confronting economic and security challenges.

"We guarantee to deliver," an emotional Tsunekazu Takeda, Japan's IOC member and the head of the 2020 bid, said late Saturday.

The vote means the IOC will be heading to Asia five times in 12 years, including the Youth Games that under outgoing president Jacques Rogge have become a fixture on the Olympic calendar:

Beijing 2008, Singapore 2010, Nanjing 2014, Pyeongchang 2018 and -- Tokyo 2020.

Now, too, the Games go back to Japan for the first time since the Winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998.

The Summer Games were held in post-war Tokyo in 1964, a historical and emotional note that was referred to time and again in the campaign -- along with the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused so much devastation in northeastern Japan.

The vote Saturday ended a campaign sure to be studied long into the future, and deservedly so.

After the luxury of choosing among some of the world's finest cities or turning to so-called "new horizons," Saturday's verdict offered evidence to some that the IOC picked what it had, given what it had. This was Istanbul's fifth bid, for instance; Madrid's fourth, and third in a row; Tokyo's third, and second straight.

All three cities certainly could boast positives. But all three came burdened as well with worrying negatives. Tokyo: the leak at the stricken Fukushima reactor. Madrid: one-in-four unemployment and lingering recession. Istanbul: deadly anti-government riots, the war in neighboring Syria and, in its sports programs, a massive doping scandal.

High on the agenda of the new president: this  2020 election season surely ought to serve as nothing less than a dramatic warning signal that much about the IOC bid and election process deserves wholesale review.

The 2020 race turned in February, 2012, when Rome dropped out, the then-prime minister, Mario Monti, saying the national government would not provide financial backing for the project, estimated at roughly $12.5 billion.

The United States opted not to get in, despite reaching resolution with the IOC on a longstanding dispute over certain broadcasting and marketing revenue splits.

For 2012, the IOC had five cities -- London, Paris, Madrid, New York and Moscow.

For 2016, four -- Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago.

2020: only three deemed, ultimately, finalists.

When Rome went out early, the race seemed it would be a referendum on Istanbul.

After all, in recent years the IOC had been in an expansionist mode.

In 2014, it had reached out to Sochi. Never before had there been Winter Games in Russia.

It went to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 -- after the Brazilians, during the campaign, produced a map that showed the Summer Games had never been to South America.

It went to Pyeongchang in a landslide in 2018, the campaign promising to help open up burgeoning Asian markets to winter sports.

Another trend seemingly pointing Istanbul's way: the blockbuster project.

A key IOC theme is what in Olympic jargon is called "legacy." Since Barcelona and the 1992 Games, and perhaps even Seoul and the 1988 Games, the notion of "legacy" has found expression primarily in the idea an Olympics could physically transform a city with massive infrastructure projects, and in turn those projects and the Games could the re-brand a city -- and by extension a country -- on the world stage.

Many have since tried to emulate Barcelona's success.

The Athens 2004 plan, a drama of dysfunction, finally cost Greece about $11 billion, at least double what was initially budgeted. Many facilities sit now moldering, unused, in the hot Mediterranean sun, so-called "white elephants."

Beijing's 2008 Games capital budget? More than $40 billion. As in Greece, there are Olympic "white elephants" in China, too.

London's 2012 Olympic plan? More than $14 billion -- though careful planning has resulted in the use of the facilities in Britain.

Sochi 2014? The budget, at least that admitted to by the Russians as they built a brand-new winter resort from scratch: north of $50 billion.

Rio's capital plans, much like the Athens project, have been shadowed by delays. The IOC just days ago told the Brazilians, again, time is of the essence.

It was against this backdrop that the Istanbul bid unveiled what in prior years amounted to the classic IOC play -- a series of enormous metro, airport and sports-related construction projects aiming to transform the city in time for 2020.

The estimated price tag: $19 billion.

Madrid offered a vastly different tack. After bidding for 2012 and 2016, it basically had almost everything in hand already -- only four new permanent venues and three new temporary sites would have to be built. Madrid's capital costs: $1.9 billion, one-tenth Istanbul's.

That's why, the Madrid mayor, Ana Botella, would assert the Spanish capital offered the movement a "new model."

The Spanish team also came to Buenos Aires feeling the momentum of the early July meeting at the IOC's longtime base, Lausanne, Switzerland. There, before the entire IOC membership, Spain's Crown Prince Felipe wowed the members with a speech full of energy, elegance and enthusiasm, declaring memorably, "Madrid 2020 makes sense."

The troubled Spanish economy? Not one question about it in July in Lausanne. Nor here Saturday.

In Buenos Aires, the Madrid team was easy to spot. "Spread the red" was their motto, their team out and about, the men in red ties, the lady mayor in her power red blazer.

The Japanese came to Argentina, in a way, exactly where they started.

Tokyo launched its 2020 bid in part as a response to the devastation of that 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Along the way, the Japanese presented the IOC with an unparalleled opportunity.

Tokyo's capital budget was fixed at $4.9 billion. Its major project was a re-do of the national stadium, with estimates fixed at $1.5 to $1.9 billion.

Because Tokyo had bid for 2016 as well, there was now $4.5 billion sitting -- literally, untouched, available, at the ready -- in the bank.

That money was held by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

This money, the IOC was assured, would be available for "Olympic-related purposes not linked to construction, provided that the appropriate authorizations were obtained."

Which meant, pretty much, anything. Again, and for emphasis -- anything one could imagine.

The Tokyo 2020 team helpfully pointed out, too, that the money for the stadium fix-up was coming not from the TMG but from the Japanese national government itself. So whether you penciled the stadium cost at $1.5 or $1.9 billion, it didn't matter. All the $4.5 billion would still be available. For any "Olympic-related purpose."

For comparison: that $4.5 billion was more than NBC paid the IOC, $4.38 billion, for the rights to televise the Games in the United States from 2014 through 2020. It was like the Japanese were inviting the IOC on a seven-year-long date and saying, oh, by the way, we have $4.5 billion available, too, all of it totally legal and we are super-happy to share -- are you at all interested?

This is why throughout the campaign the Tokyo team stressed the financial security of their bid, saying the IOC would be "safe hands" in Japan. They reinforced the theme by saying Tokyo itself was a "safe" place to walk, even at, say, 3 in the morning.

They sought, too, to stress Japan's reputation for innovation in such fields as technology.

At the same time, for months the Tokyo team struggled to convey the passion they themselves felt working for the bid -- the emotion that brought hundreds of thousands of Japanese to the streets at a parade in Tokyo for the 38 athletes who won medals at the London Games.

Late in the campaign, they turned to the imagery of the earthquake and tsunami. In August, at a briefing at the world track and field championships in Moscow, Naoko Takahashi, the Sydney Games women's marathon winner, talked about how she had been in charge of a project to send shoes to kids in Kenya; instead, the shoes were sent to kids in northeastern Japan; when the kids in Kenya who were supposed to have gotten the shoes heard what had happened, she said, those kids sent the Japanese kids a prayer song.

"I promise in Tokyo every one of you will feel the Olympic spirit," she said. "In the year 2020, it will be full of feelings of celebration."

Then, though, the damage from the earthquake and tsunami came back into focus again -- this time through the prism of the Fukushima reactor.

At issue, ultimately: how bad was the problem, were the authorities covering up its scale and scope and, finally, what was going to be done about it and by whom -- keeping in mind, at least for Olympic purposes, that 2020 was seven years away.

On Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said flatly to the IOC members, "Let me assure you: The situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."

Asked by senior IOC Norwegian member Gerhard Heiberg to clarify, Abe asserted the radiated water was confined to a completely blocked-off area and posed zero risk now or in the future, declaring, "I shall take responsibility for the drastic resolution to render this situation completely problem-free. I shall say this most emphatically and unequivocally."

Tokyo got only three questions from the members after their presentation. Two included asides praising its "emotional" and "inspiring" presentation.

Meanwhile, as everyone fully understood, a vote for Istanbul would take Doha, and Qatar, out of the running for several years, perhaps a generation.

With the emirate poised to play host to soccer's World Cup in 2022, and some in the IOC gravely concerned about the import of Qatari wealth on the IOC bid process, the beginning of the Istanbul campaign seemed full of such promise.

Then came the $19 billion construction play, which seemed so completely and totally in line with recent winning bids elsewhere.

Then, though, it all started unraveling.

The IOC evaluation report made plain that Istanbul is a large and complex city and the 2020 plan widespread and more difficult to deliver than Madrid's or Tokyo's.

The bid, meanwhile, had sought to "reposition Turkey and to foster global understanding and inclusiveness by being the first secular Muslim country to host the Games." But at the core of the riots that shook Turkey this summer was the perception among many of the protestors of a shift away from the secular and toward the fundamental -- that is, a more Islamic society.

At the same time the Istanbul bid was saying an "emphasis would be placed on the use of social media," and the IOC increasingly turning to Facebook and Twitter to get its message out to young people, there was Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan declaring Twitter a "menace," saying, "The best example of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society."

Finally, over the summer Turkish sport itself was rocked by an enormous doping scandal. First, nine Turkish track and field athletes got two-year bans for doping. Then, just a few days later, 31 more were suspended, too, 20 of the 31 23 or younger, eight of them teenagers, one just 16 years old. On Aug. 28, 100-meter hurdler Nevin Yanit, the European champ who was fifth at the London 2012 Games, got a two-year ban. Still pending: the case of 1500-meter winner Asli Cakir Alptekin.

The 31 suspensions were tied to tests ordered by track's international governing body, the IAAF, connected to the Mediterranean Games, an Olympic-style competition held in June in the Turkish city of Mersin. The track and field events there were staged at the "Nevin Yanit Athletics Complex."

As July turned to August, there was increasing talk within Olympic circles that the Istanbul bid was losing traction. Even as Istanbul 2020 announced that Erdogan was coming to Buenos Aires, it was speculated that it was not because he was intent on leading a winning bid -- it was a matter of saving face.

On stage Saturday, Erdogan called Istanbul a "city of tolerance" -- no reference to the riots whatsoever -- and said Turkey wanted to "unite the continents in brotherhood."

In the questions-and-answers that followed, Turkey's IOC member, Ugur Erdener, disclosed a bombshell -- that though this was Istanbul's fifth bid over the years, Turkey had just two years ago finally gotten its act together to create a national anti-doping agency.

As a point of sharp contrast, the Tokyo 2020 team noted that not one Japanese athlete had ever failed a doping test at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Mami Sato, a three-time Japanese Paralympic long jumper with a smile that lit up the rainy winter night here in Argentina, confessed afterward that she had been so nervous before the vote.

"I was so worried for my country," she said.

But she said she was also, in her way, confident, the strength of a woman whose home in the earthquake and tsunami zone, just 200 meters from the sea, had been thrashed. She had lost contact with her family for nearly a week before learning that her parents and grandmother, in her 80s, had made it.

She said, "This bid connected people at all levels across Japan. I have never felt Japan so strong.

"I hope," she added, sighing a happy, contented sigh, "this power continues for seven years, to and through 2020."

 

 

Tokyo 2020: "Hugely impressed" or lost in translation?

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TOKYO -- There is no question, absolutely none, that Tokyo could put on the Summer Games in 2020. They have the technical know-how. They proved that here, again, this week. They're certain to get a good write-up when the International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission releases its formal report, in July.

"We have been hugely impressed by the quality of the bid preparations," the head of the commission, Britain's Sir Craig Reedie, told a jam-packed news conference Thursday, adding a moment later, "Across the board, it has been excellent in every way."

As always in Olympic bidding, for all the complexities, there are -- to paraphrase Sebastian Coe, who championed London's 2005 winning campaign and then served as London 2012 chairman -- only two questions, how and why.

Having manifestly established the how, the challenge now facing Tokyo before the IOC vote Sept. 7 -- Madrid and Istanbul are also in the 2020 race -- is the why.

Can Tokyo craft a compelling story?

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History shows they know what to do when they get big events in Japan.

The 1998 Nagano Winter Games? The 2002 soccer World Cup, shared with Korea? The 2007 Osaka track and field world championships?

All successes.

And yet recent years have also seen a profound disconnect in Japanese bids for the Olympics.

In 2001, Osaka's bid for the 2008 Summer Games got six votes out of 112, out in the first round.

In 2009, Tokyo's bid for 2016 -- which scored high in the evaluation report -- had to scrimp for votes  to get out of the first round, just to save face. That helped knock Chicago, which got a mere 18 votes in Round One, out. Tokyo then promptly went out in Round Two, with just 20.

They decided after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northeastern Japan to bid for 2020.

Next week will mark the two-year anniversary of the disaster.

"Tokyo does not face a big issue of radiation -- that was explained," Tsunekazu Takeda, president of Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese Olympic Committee as well as the lone IOC member in Japan, said.

And saying that the water in Tokyo is clean enough to drink from the tap, which they made a point of doing to the evaluation commission -- that's not a story. That's just normal.

So what is the story?

At a gala dinner Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe started his remarks to the commission by saying, "Japan is an aging society; that's why we hope Tokyo will be chosen." With all due respect to the prime minister, the IOC is relentlessly seeking to appeal to a younger demographic. How does his observation help?

Thursday's wrap-up Tokyo 2020 news conference showcased bid officials and athletes, eight personalities in all. On stage, among others: Takeda; Masato Mizuno, the Tokyo 2020 chief executive and a JOC vice president; and Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose.

There is a tendency here for sartorial conformity, the bid uniform a blue suit and white shirt. That monochromatic vision calls to mind the image the Pyeongchang bid team put forward in 2007 for 2014. Note: that bid did not win.

It was only when Pyeongchang injected more verve and dash in its clothes and its presentations -- and, not incidentally, switched almost entirely to speaking English, which the IOC moves mostly in now -- that it rolled to a landslide victory in 2011 for 2018.

Already some of the more sophisticated souls working on the Tokyo team have recognized the danger in the parallels to Pyeongchang's unsuccessful efforts -- because, too, the IOC would have to be convinced to come back to Asia in the summer of 2020 after being in Korea in the winter of 2018.

There were blue shirts on stage Thursday, not just white. And grey suits, not just blue. And Gov. Inose started the conference by saying, "I have really enjoyed this week," and he spoke in English.

To be plain, 2020 offers Tokyo a far better chance for victory than 2016.

There are only three cities in this 2020 race, not four as in 2016. And there's only one -- Istanbul -- that, like Rio, offers the IOC the expansionist strategy that has dominated recent bid contests.

Meanwhile, it's plain the issues around which the 2020 race will turn are, first, whether the IOC wants to keep heading toward new shores and, second, whether it wants another huge urban makeover construction project.

The strategy here -- and, in measure, in Madrid, too -- has to go like this:

Sochi, the 2014 Winter Games host, is already is known to cost more than $50 billion. Work is still not done.

Rio de Janeiro, the 2016 Summer Games site, is so bedeviled by delays that the IOC has been saying, albeit in IOC code, to hurry up with a multiplicity of projects. Time "is of the essence," the Brazilians were told when an IOC team was there just last month.

Istanbul's construction budget weighs in at $19.2 billion, and history has shown that figures provided in bid books tend to be understatements.

Madrid has yet to make its case to the evaluation commission; that four-day visit begins March 18.

Here, the venue plan calls for 28 of the 33 competition venues to be within five miles of the Olympic Village; the village would be built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay.

Though they have a $4.9 billion infrastructure budget, 40 percent of which will be directed for a make-over of the national stadium, they also have plenty in the bank, the money just sitting there, the commission heard.

Japan has a $5.9 trillion economy, the world's third-largest. Abe, moreover, has shown signs that he is willing to make market-opening changes that Japan has resisted for nearly 20 years.

If Tokyo were itself a country, the commission was told, its economy alone would almost make the top 10 in the world.

Even the Tokyo polling numbers are up: 70 percent of locals want the Games, an IOC survey disclosed. That's up from 47 percent last year.

Reflecting on the four days with the evaluation commission, the governor, still speaking in English, said, "I believe we have shown the best of Tokyo. All those assets that will underpin the smooth delivery of Tokyo 2020 -- for example, our exceptional transport infrastructure, our cutting-edge technology and the very high levels of safety and security in Tokyo."

That has the makings of a story: Tokyo as reliable, fun and interesting choice. Bring on the sushi. It just needs to be told, and votes asked for.

Unclear -- given history, personality and temperament -- is whether it can be done.

The governor, as he was wrapping up the news conference, suddenly found himself telling roughly 1,000 journalists about the work of the former Harvard professor and political scientist Samuel Huntington, who died in 2008, and Huntington's focus on the competing cultural identities in the world of perhaps seven or eight "civilizations." Japan, as the governor noted, is one.

"Because of the maturity of this civilization, we will have a situation where we can 'discover tomorrow,' " Inose said, now in Japanese, slipping in the bid's catchphrase.

"By 2020, we can show that to the world by hosting the Games."

In Tokyo, the risk is that the story -- the why -- keeps getting lost in translation. They have six months to try to figure it out.

 

Tokyo 2020: a search for connection

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TOKYO -- To say that staff and officials of the Tokyo 2020 bid committee were feeling tense and nervous would be an understatement. On a scale of one to 10, nerves were cosmic. Maybe galactic. This was the first of the three bid-city visits -- Madrid and Istanbul come later this month -- and Tokyo is a place where things are expected to be done right. As Yuki Ota, a London 2012 silver medalist in fencing would later say about how much he had prep work he had done to meet the International Olympic Committee's evaluation commission here Monday, "My paper was worn out, that's how much I practiced." The formality of the setting in which the bid committee meets the IOC does not particularly lend itself to easy interaction. Here is the Tokyo set-up, typical of such arrangements:

photo courtesy Tokyo 2020

And then, first thing, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of the entire country, showed up. Like all senior government officials who meet with the IOC, he was there to say that the bid, and its $4.9 billion infrastructure budget, had full government support. Which he did.

He told the IOC commission, "Soon, the questions we now face in Japan will be the same questions many others will face -- like how best to rejuvenate an aging society, how clean and clear you can keep your sky.

"That's why the torch must come to Tokyo again.

"Tokyo 2020 will inspire many others just as Tokyo did before in 1964."

A couple moments before that, in referring to the 1964 Tokyo Games, Japan's only Summer Olympics, Abe -- whose government was elected just this past December -- briefly broke into song. He sang a little bit of the theme song from those 1964 Games.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe at the IOC evaluation commission // photo courtesy Tokyo 2020

Evaluation visits are a tricky business.

Bid cities have a ton of information they're trying to convey.

The IOC, meanwhile, has questions it wants answered.

Along the way, the issue is always whether the two sides can find any sort of connection.

With Tokyo, that question is perhaps more pressing than it might be elsewhere.

And they know it.

It's why they paraded athletes, one after another, to meet the commission -- and the press -- on Monday, even Sara Takanashi, the women's 2013 season World Cup ski jump champion, who is of course a winter-sports athlete and would not be competing in the Summer Games but is such a celebrity in sports-mad Japan that photographers went shutter-mad clicking photos of her at an evening news conference. She said she had sat in on the commission meetings and, amid the frenzied  cameras, allowed, "I definitely want to see the Games held in Tokyo."

Left to right: ski jump champ Sara Takanashi, Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, Tokyo 2020 bid president Tsunekazu Takeda, Singapore 2010 Youth Games gymnastics gold medalist Yuya Kamoto

The commission heard from Homare Sawa, the soccer player who was the FIFA women's player of the year in 2011 and has played in four Summer Games. Asked later by reporters if she was nervous meeting with the IOC, she joked, "Of course, fighting for the gold medal is my real line of business, so maybe I like it better."

Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose, meanwhile, not only  met formally with the commission, he showed up again, later, in sweats, at Ariake Arena to play tennis with Shingo Kunieda, the Beijing and London Paralympic gold medalist. The temperature at the open-air court was in the 40s. Kuneida smoked the governor on his very first serve, then let up, then the governor -- who is in his mid-60s and is a recent marathon finisher -- got the hang of it. They produced some decent rallies and, as the commission members filed in to watch, Kuneida serving, the governor won a point. Game, set, match.

"Every single move was a curiosity for me," the governor said later, adding, "I could learn a lot."

He also said, "I love sports," and in a move to show that Tokyo 2020 will be different from the Tokyo 2016 bid, which struggled to get into the second round, he observed, "Last time we emphasized environmental policy," noting that the Olympic Games are first and foremost about sports and thus it would only makes sense to focus on sports.

"This," he said, "is a celebration of sports. To enjoy sports -- that kind of passion is very important, looking to the year 2020. I find great power in that."

It's way, way, way too soon to know whether this Monday in March will, come the IOC's vote in September at its assembly in Buenos Aires, make a difference. There are three days yet to go here in the IOC's visit.

The search is on for connection.

Tsunekazu Takeda, the president of both the Tokyo 2020 bid and the Japanese Olympic Committee who is also now the lone Japanese member of the IOC, said, "We completed the first day without a hitch. As of now, I am very satisfied. Three days still remain. We will do our maximum."