Who Will Host The 2020 Olympics?

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Tomorrow at 4 p.m. EDT, the IOC will announce the host city for the 2020 Olympic Games. Though that seems like so far away and you will be old and incontinent by then, it seems worth handicapping the three candidates.

Tokyo, Japan

Pro: Tokyo is the favorite to land the games, according to oddsmakers. The centerpiece would be a renovation turning the existing 1964 Olympic stadium into this spaceship-looking thing. Organizers are promising the first "downtown Olympics," with an Olympic Village located in the heart of the city, and all but three venues within five miles.


Tokyo is considered a safe choice. It has a history of hosting international events. It has the infrastructure to move people around the city. There will be no protests, no construction delays. With Sochi and Rio looking shakier by the day, don't underestimate the IOC's appreciation of of a low-risk host.

Con: Officials have expressed concern about elevated levels of radiation from the Fukashima power plant disaster, citing contaminated water and seafood. (Most of these concerns have been raised by organizers of opposing bids.)


Polls have shown local support for the Olympics running lower than that of the other two cities.

Tokyo has already hosted a summer Olympics, and Japan has hosted two winter Games, most recently in 1998. South Korea will play host to the 2018 winter Olympics, so IOC members may not want to put two consecutive Games on the same corner of the globe.

Madrid, Spain

Pro: Spanish organizers are fond of saying that Madrid could host the Olympics tomorrow if it had to. Because of failed bids for the 2012 and 2018 games, 80 percent of competition sites are already in place. Madrid has estimated an infrastructure budget of just $2 billion, which could make it one of the cheapest Olympics in decades.


The Spaniards are making financial restraint the focal part of their bid: when each Games are more expensive than the last, and horror stories like Athens's abandoned Olympic venues show the worst-case scenario of a city thinking short-term, Madrid is promising to incorporate its already-historic sites. Basketball would take place in a bullfighting arena, soccer at Real Madrid's Bernabéu, and multiple events in the sprawling Retiro Park.

Con: Madrid might be promising a cheap Olympics because it can't afford anything else. Spain's economy is a shitshow right now, replete with historic unemployment levels. The city has debts of nearly $10 billion, and if the Olympics are seven years away, IOC members could be concerned about Madrid's ability to handle cost overruns in the interim.


Spain is considered ground zero for doping in European sport. Just this summer, police arrested 84 people in two organized gangs, accusing them of running a nationwide PED ring. Operation Puerto, a massive crackdown on doping among cyclists, tennis players, boxers, and soccer players, was called "a disaster" by the head of Spain's Olympic committee.

Earlier this week, Spanish paper El Mundo published the names of 50 IOC members who it claimed were going to vote for Madrid's bid. While this unbelievable sounding number would give Madrid an unprecedented first-round victory in the voting, it seems to have backfired. Voters love themselves their secret ballot, and there are fears many could change their votes. It went down "like a lead balloon," one IOC official said.


Istanbul, Turkey

Pro: A fascinating choice. Turkey, which could very well be on the way to E.U. membership by 2020, would be the closest thing to a Middle Eastern host in Olympic history. The IOC, taking cues from FIFA, has seemed intent on opening up new parts of the world. If the Olympics are about two-way cultural exposure, Istanbul has a narrative that can't be beat.


Istanbul has promised massive construction for the Olympics, and the IOC loves the idea that it can stimulate the economy of newly industrialized nations. The Istanbul bid claims that 90 percent of the funding will go toward civic projects that will serve the city beyond the Olympics.

Con: Even beyond the $19 billion required to get the city into hosting shape, Turkey's politics make it the most "risky" choice. Relatively stable for the Near East, Turkey has seen growing protests from students and secularists against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who seems like he has no intentions of stepping down by 2020. Images of protests in Gezi Park will weigh heavily on the minds of IOC members. "We don’t care about Olympics too much," one protestor told a reporter. "We just want our freedom."


A Kurdish separatist movement in the country's east flares up in sporadic violence. There are fears that the war in Syria could spill over the border, physically and politically. Voters may be wary of repeating the backlash against the Sochi games—Turkey has a nasty habit of imprisoning dissidents and journalists. Basically: no one knows what Turkey will be like in seven years.

Most likely to win the 2020 Summer Olympics