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Olympic Committee To Announce 2020 Summer Games Host

Tokyo's 2020 candidate city logo.
Juan Mabromata
AFP/Getty Images
Tokyo's 2020 candidate city logo.

Saturday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the International Olympic Committee will announce the host of the 2020 Summer Games. The committee is choosing from among Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo. The contenders all have strong selling points, but each also has serious issues clouding its bid.

Violent Crackdown Hangs Over Turkey's Bid

Hasan Arat is Istanbul's 2020 bid chairman.
Fabrice Conffrini / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Hasan Arat is Istanbul's 2020 bid chairman.

Predicting an IOC vote is a tricky affair, but earlier this year Turkish officials were fairly aglow with the sense that this city linking Europe and Asia had the inside track to become the first Muslim country to host the games. Even today, judging by the noise of heavy machinery, one would think the games were practically a sure thing.

In the Besiktas neighborhood near Taksim Square, the old soccer stadium is coming down to make way for a new arena. In addition to a massive new airport, a tunnel beneath the Bosporus is nearly finished and a third bridge spanning the strait is in the works.

But violent crackdowns on street protests thrust Istanbul into the headlines this summer, and a doping scandal has rocked the country's sporting federation.

Tugba Guvenc, 19, an 800-meter specialist training for the 2020 games, says she hopes the bad publicity won't ruin Istanbul's chances.

"These negative events have hurt us, but our advantages are still strong," she says. "The Olympics is about bringing people together and we bring two continents together."

Environmentalists and urban planners hope the games don't come here, saying the last thing Istanbul needs now is another rush of mega-projects. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking a personal interest in the bid, traveling directly from the G-20 summit to Buenos Aires for a last-minute push.

Will Third Time Be A Charm For Madrid?

Spanish basketball player Pau Gasol poses during a news conference held in Buenos Aires on Thursday to promote Madrid as host city for the 2020 Olympic Games.
/ AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Spanish basketball player Pau Gasol poses during a news conference held in Buenos Aires on Thursday to promote Madrid as host city for the 2020 Olympic Games.

At a 19th century palace in Madrid, the city has put its Olympic dreams on display — an exhibition with maps, models and videos of possible venues for the 2020 games. The city's famed bull ring would host basketball. A lake in Retiro Park would be drained and filled with sand for beach volleyball.

Madrilenos are giddy at the prospect of hosting the Olympics — even though they doubt it'll do much for the 27 percent of Spaniards out of work, like Lourdes Kornacker.

"If the Olympics come to Madrid and for example, I rent out a room in my flat to make some money, it's going to be money for two weeks — and then it's gone," she says.

Spain's Olympic chief Alejandro Blanco says the games would jump-start this economy after years of hardship.

"No investment is more profitable than the Olympics," he told reporters while introducing Madrid's bid. "A big part of the profits will be in money, but the incalculable value is for our image."

Madrid is littered with a half-built stadium, housing and public parks left over from the construction boom and bust — which would be repurposed for the Olympics.

Blanco says 80 percent of the infrastructure Madrid needs for the games is already in place. So its bid comes in at around $3 billion, one of the cheapest in Olympic history.

But Madrid's image has been tainted by doping in sports — which wasn't even illegal here until 2006.

Madrid was a base for Eufemiano Fuentes, a Spanish doctor convicted this year of masterminding one of the world's biggest doping rings. He gave blood transfusions to Tyler Hamilton, one of Lance Armstrong's teammates.

Filippo Ricci, an Italian journalist, covered the cyclist's testimony at trial.

"When he came here to Madrid, he got an extraction of blood and he couldn't wait — he had a plane to catch. He gets to the airport, and all his shirt is full of blood. You know, this is not a Tarantino film. This is blood, and it's in the streets of Madrid. It's just incredible," Ricci says.

Spanish officials insist those scenes are history. They've recently passed anti-doping laws.

This is Madrid's third consecutive Olympic bid.

Japan's Bid Overshadowed By Nuclear Crisis

If the Olympics are a coming-of-age ceremony for rising nations, for Japan the Summer Games are a chance to show it still matters.

Saddled with a shrinking, graying population, living uncomfortably in the shadow of an ascendant China, Japan is anxious to prove it remains a contender. On the practical side, the games were seen as a much needed boost to tourism, for a country that is way off the beaten track and expensive to visit.

But in Japan, the Olympics are just as much for the Japanese themselves as for overseas consumption. Tokyo's flamboyant former governor and nationalist, Shintaro Ishihara, 80, was convinced the event would rekindle the magic of the 1964 Olympics — reinstalling a sense of unity, purpose and pride he felt had waned as Japan matured.

In normal times, Tokyo should have been a shoo-in. As anyone who has ever attended a business conference or even ordered a bowl of noodles here knows, Japan is the gold standard for service and efficiency. The trains are so reliable you can set your watch by them. Tokyo is one of the richest cities in the world and offered ironclad guarantees that its deep pockets could cover any necessity.

But even a cute robot demonstration, unveiled this week to highlight Japan's high-tech allure, could not distract from the PR nightmare that is the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a two-year-old crisis that worsens by the day.

Tokyo Olympic officials pointed out, correctly, that the leaking plant is more than 100 miles from the capital, and the city's 13 million residents have long stopped having their produce checked for radiation. Yet the picture of a crisis clearly out of control has zoomed into sharp focus in recent weeks.

The national government has pledged about $500 million to build an ice barrier around the site and filter toxic water. But with no safe end in sight for Fukushima, it's no wonder that overseas, as well in Tokyo, people say Japan has more pressing business than hosting an Olympics.

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Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
Lucy Craft