Tokyo wins bid to host 2020 Olympic Games

The Japanese city portrayed itself as safe choice despite Fukushima radiation leaks

Members of the Japanese bid committee celebrate as Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, announces that Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, during a ceremony in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7, 2013.
Marcos Brindicci/Reuters

Tokyo emerged victorious in the final round of voting Saturday to decide which city will host the 2020 Olympic Games, knocking out Istanbul and Madrid.

Madrid was the first of the three finalist cities to be eliminated in a run-off with Istanbul.

This is the second time the International Olympic Committee has chosen the Japanese city to host the Summer Games, which were also held there in 1964. The decision Saturday came despite concerns over the recent Fukushima nuclear waste leaks.

In final presentations at a meeting in Buenos Aires, Tokyo's bid committee made its case as the safe choice, in comparison to Turkey dealing with civil war in neighboring Syria, and Madrid with Europe’s economic crisis.  

Although Tokyo had been considered a slight favorite, its supporters were on the defensive in the final days of the campaign amid mounting concerns about the recent leakage of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant.

"Some may have concerns about Fukushima," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in English at the Buenos Aires meeting. "Let me assure you the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."

Norwegian IOC member Gerhard Heiberg asked for more assurances.

"It poses no problem whatsoever," Abe said in Japanese, adding that the contamination was limited to a small area and had been "completely blocked."

"There are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future," he said. "I make the statement to you in the most emphatic and unequivocal way."

Tokyo Electric Power Co., Fukushima's operator, has acknowledged that tons of radioactive water have been seeping into the Pacific Ocean from the plant for more than two years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to meltdowns at three of its reactors. Recent leaks from tanks storing radioactive water used to cool the reactors have added to fears that the amount of contaminated water is getting out of hand.

Tokyo continued to portray itself as the safest option amid global political and economic uncertainty.

"Tokyo can be trusted to be the safe pair of hands and much more," bid leader and IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda said. "Our case today is simple. Vote for Tokyo and you vote for guaranteed delivery. ... Tokyo is the right partner at the right time."

The next Summer Olympics will be hosted by Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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