Japan’s clean hands on doping key in winning the 2020 Games for Tokyo

Istanbul and Madrid swept aside as IOC members choose the safe option
  • @RobinScottEllio

The International Olympic Committee duly delivered the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games into the safe hands of Tokyo but it was not only the significant financial security offered by the Japanese capital that persuaded the IOC’s members to vote decisively in its favour ahead of Istanbul and Madrid. The issue of doping, and the stark contrast between Japan’s glowing record of never having had an athlete test positive at either the Olympic or Paralympic Games, plus Turkey’s recent scandals, played a role in ensuring a crushing victory for Tokyo in what had been predicted as a tight contest.

Tokyo, with $4.5bn already in the bank, had consistently pitched its bid as the one to rely on and with concerns mounting within IOC ranks over the state of preparation for the Rio Games in 2016 – as well as the controversies surrounding the budget and politics for next year’s Sochi Winter Games – the certainties it offered when compared to the huge build Istanbul faced and continued uncertainty over the state of the Spanish economy were telling. Madrid bowed out in the first round – the city tied with Istanbul on 26 votes but lost an eliminator to the Turks by 49-45 – before Tokyo easily beat Istanbul by 60 votes to 36.

“The IOC members, in a fragile world, have decided in favour of tradition and stability,” said Thomas Bach, an IOC vice-president and the favourite to succeed Jacques Rogge in tomorrow’s presidential election. It was a line echoed across the voting members, with a number agreeing the current landscape in Rio had played a part. Britain’s Craig Reedie, another vice-president, said: “The certainty was a crucial factor — the certainty that they could deliver.”

Both Madrid and Istanbul were questioned over their countries’ records on doping. Each has been accused of not treating the issue seriously enough, and both have had high-profile doping scandals in recent months. Turkey has seen more than 30 athletes – the majority of them aged 23 or under – fail dope tests this year. The winner of the 1500m in London, Asli Cakir Alptekin, faces being stripped of her gold and banned for life. The revelation that Turkey only established a national anti-doping agency two years ago despite this being Istanbul’s fifth bid was not well received.

The Madrid bid has been dogged by the Operation Puerto case and the refusal of the Spanish authorities to hand over the blood bags gathered in evidence against Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor convicted of doping, to agencies for further analysis. Adam Pengilly, a former skeleton racer now Britain’s IOC member, was among those to use the question-and-answer session after each bid’s presentation in Buenos Aires to raise the issue of doping. “It is clear that the IOC members pay a lot of attention to the situation in the fight against doping,” said Rogge.

While Rogge suggested that it was difficult to ascertain how much of an influence that had played on the voting, it certainly aided Tokyo’s cause. It was emphatically Tokyo’s night – they came in as favourites, delivered the best presentation, fronted by Princess Hisako of Takamado, the first member of the Japanese Imperial family to address the IOC, and more than adequately dealt with their main problem, with the country’s prime minister Shinzo Abe convincing voters that seven years down the line leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant, some 150 miles away, would not be an issue.

Tokyo’s second Games will be compact and will have at its heart a re-built National Olympic Stadium, a stunning 80,000-capacity venue that is already being constructed to host the Rugby World Cup final in 2019. Eighty-five per cent of the venues are within 8km of the athletes’ village while 21 of them will be newly built for the Games. There is little accompanying work required on the city’s infrastructure.

It was Madrid’s third successive failure. The Spanish capital had promised a new-look cheaper Games in answer to questions over the state of the country’s economy. But the combination of long-term fears over that economy, doping and geography did for them. With the IOC looking to spread their main event around the globe there is a feeling that Europe, having hosted the 2012 and 2004 Games, has had its turn for now. The race for 2024 is likely to be between Europe and the US, with Paris, wounds licked post-London, pondering another bid.

It is a particularly heavy blow for Turkey, who had dropped a bid to host football’s European Championships in 2020 to focus on the Olympic contest. The Euros had been theirs for the taking. With the tournament now to be spread around Europe, Istanbul is likely to bid to stage the finals and semi-finals and will be well placed to beat the likes of London to do so, given the probable support of Michel Platini, Uefa’s president.

Tokyo Brits: Past & future


For Britain much of the story of the 1964 Games was found in one room in the athletes’ village. Mary Rand and Ann Packer were room-mates in Tokyo and returned home with five medals between them. Rand became the first British woman to win a track-and-field gold in the long jump – Lynn “the Leap” Davies won the men’s too to secure a rare double – and was followed onto the podium by Packer, who claimed 800m gold. Packer also won silver in the 400m, while Rand, on leave from her job in a Guinness factory, took a silver in the pentathlon and a relay bronze.

Three for 2020

Katarina Johnson-Thompson

Earmarked as a successor to Denise Lewis and Jessica Ennis-Hill, the 20-year-old from Liverpool is aiming for a medal in Rio in 2016 but should be at her peak in the heptathlon come Tokyo.

Elinor Barker

The 18-year-old is the latest talent to pedal off British Cycling’s production line. She is already a world champion, having helped Britain to team pursuit gold in Minsk this year.

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor

Competed in London 2012 as a 16-year-old and the medley specialist is widely regarded within swimming as a star in the making.