The race to host the 2020 Summer Olympics reaches the first hurdle on Wednesday with five cities trying to avoid being dropped from the bidding marathon by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Istanbul, Madrid, Tokyo, Doha and Azerbaijan’s Baku will try to convince an evaluation committee they are ready to stage the world’s biggest sporting spectacle and remain in the high stakes runoff that will not conclude until September 2013 when the IOC will vote on a host in Buenos Aires.
Trimming the bids will be at the top of a busy three-day agenda for the IOC but the executive board is also expected to deal with several thorny issues, including Saudi Arabia’s hesitation to send female athletes to the London Olympics.
The possible inclusion of South Sudan and Kosovo as Olympic members, an update on a revenue-sharing agreement with the United States Olympic Committee and what to do with the 2004 gold medal stripped from American cyclist Tyler Hamilton after a positive dope test are all issues likely to be raised.
The IOC executive board can also expect to face tough questions over its decision not to honor the 40th anniversary of Israeli athletes killed in attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics with a moment of silence at the London Games.
The spotlight, however, will be focused on the culling of candidates for the 2020 Summer Games.
With the global economy in upheaval, selecting a 2020 host represents a tricky decision for the IOC as it looks ahead eight years and ponders a fuzzy financial picture.
While Tokyo and Istanbul are the clear front-runners, each of the five bids has questions hanging over their ability to stage a Games.
All five cities have bid before but Istanbul, bidding for a fifth time, could finally be rewarded for its perseverance.
Bridging two continents, Istanbul is considered by many as an attractive choice but Turkey’s pursuit of soccer’s 2020 European championships is proving a distraction.
“We will see tomorrow if we make the cut but we are very positive,” Hasan Arat, leader of the Istanbul delegation told reporters on Tuesday. “We have learned a lot from the previous bids.
“For Turkey, hosting the Games has always been the ultimate prize. Always our priority has been the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games and nothing has changed.”
Tokyo, still recovering from last year’s deadly earthquake and tsunami, is also almost certain to advance to the next round but will need to interest voters in staging consecutive Olympics in Asia with Pyeongchang set to stage 2018 Winter Games.
Oil-rich Doha has the financial muscle to host the 2020 Olympics but the tiny Gulf nation of Qatar has plenty of work ahead if it wants to add the Summer Games to a trophy case that already includes the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Convincing the IOC to stage a Summer Games in October to avoid searing heat is problematic as is the issue of women’s rights in many Arabic nations.
Even with Spain’s economy in full meltdown mode, Madrid has pushed on with its bid for the 2020 Games as organizers say an Olympics will help in the country’s economic recovery, but the IOC is sure to be wary of any financial risks.
Cash is not an issue for, Baku but the Azerbaijan capital is still viewed as the rank outsider that lacks infrastructure and Olympic quality venues.