Tokyo placed on the world stage over Istanbul

The location of the 2020 Olympics was announced a few weeks ago, and Tokyo won the bid to host the summer Olympics. The two other contenders were Madrid and Istanbul. The host city is chosen by the International Olympic Committee, in as many rounds of voting as are needed to reach a majority. Madrid struck out first, with its bid of $2 billion being rejected. This could have been due, in part, to the economic troubles of Spain, but also to the high offers of Tokyo and Istanbul. Tokyo’s winning bid offered between $5 billion and $6 billion, with an Olympics fund of $4.9 billion already amassed. Istanbul’s offer came in at a whopping $19 billion.

But Tokyo also sold themselves as the safe option. The International Olympic Committee had a choice between a traditional host and a groundbreaking one. On the one side, there is a country that has hosted the Olympics before, in 1964, and is not currently embroiled in any scandal with steroids or neighbored by a growing conflict. The one big obstacle for Japan’s selection was the leak of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant. But the representatives from Japan, primarily Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, assured the committee that the leak would not be a danger to Tokyo. On the other side, there is a country that would certainly have been an exciting, historic choice.

Turkey would have been the first majority Muslim country to host the Olympics. It is neighbored by Syria and there have been recent scandals involving steroid use by Turkish athletes. And of course, the June riots in Taksim Square did little to convince the committee that Istanbul was the safest choice.

In recent years, the International Olympic Committee has made several bold and interesting choices, even when they weren’t the safe ones. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was selected for the 2016 Olympics, followed by Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Olympics. The committee has no way to know exactly how these games will turn out as Brazil has never hosted the Olympics and South Korea has never hosted the Winter Games. They took a chance on these countries, though they did not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the games would go off without a hitch or any scandal. After all, what member of the International Olympic Committee would have guessed that the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia would provoke international outrage because of Russia’s homophobic laws? They chose these places without knowing what would happen, but trusted the host countries and trusted that each promised an exciting Olympics. But with all the outrage and conflict brewing around the next Olympics, the International Olympic Committee seems to have gone for the safe option that will still undoubtedly create a beautiful and exciting Olympics. I have no doubt that the 2020 Olympics will be spectacular.

But the chance the International Olympic Committee has missed makes me sad. They had an opportunity to send a message to the world about peace and solidarity within a region in which conflict has been the only message the world has focused on in recent years. They had a chance to give Istanbul an opportunity to show the beauty of a peaceful nation, no matter who their neighbors are. An opportunity to share a message of love and peace with the rest of the world, and the committee was too scared to take it. I do not worry that the 2020 Olympics will not be enjoyable.

I am just sad about the missed chance to make them a historic event that shows the true spirit of the Olympics: one of international love and solidarity that transcends country, religion and race and includes all of humanity.