The Olympic Games, in its classic summer iteration, is too expensive an endeavor to be trusted to cities that are too poor, too inexperienced, or too perilous to host the world. The International Olympic Committee recently decided, by a vote of 60 to 36 on the final ballot, that Tokyo is the best place to stage the 2020 summer games.
The choice is understandable. Madrid, the hope of an economically distressed nation, was eliminated in the first round, leaving only Istanbul.
Turkey might have been able to afford the expense. But it sits in a turbulent, sometimes dangerous, part of the world, sharing a border with Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It has had its own problems with Muslim fundamentalists shaking its secular foundations.
There is no certainty that any of this would change by 2020. Although Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities, it has no experience with hosting an event as large as the Olympics.
Not so Tokyo, which hosted the 1964 summer games. Japan has also hosted two Winter Olympics — Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998 — as well the World Cup soccer tournament in 2002, jointly with South Korea.
Although Japan has been in the economic doldrums for years, its people are highly organized and technologically savvy. Tokyo has great infrastructure and a low crime rate.
Tokyo was first selected to host the summer games in 1940, but went to war in China and the games were never held. The 1964 games in Tokyo marked Japan’s full return to the community of nations after the shame and devastation of its defeat less than 20 years before.
They were a happy set of games — the first to be televised to the world in real time. Judo (for men only) and women’s volleyball (not the later beach variety) became Olympic sports.
Then as now, the United States was a sports superpower. In swimming, American men won seven of the 10 gold medals and American women won six of eight golds.
Sprinter Bob Hayes, who was later to win a Super Bowl ring with the Dallas Cowboys, won the 100-meter race. Joe Frazier, still an amateur boxer, triumphed in the heavyweight division.
After Rio de Janeiro hosts the summer Olympics in 2016, Tokyo should do nicely. The only threat is the cleanup of the Fukushima nuclear disaster site, which still needs work to contain.
If the Olympics spur Japanese national pride to greater and more extraordinary efforts on that problem, the world will have double reason to rejoice.
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