BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — With major risks surrounding each bid, the three cities vying for the 2020 Olympics are making their final pitches in a tight race that could be decided by just a few votes.
Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo were each given 45-minute slots to make their final presentations today ahead of the vote later in the day by the International Olympic Committee.
Istanbul, making its fifth overall bid, was up first. The Turkish delegation pressed its case to take the Olympics for the first time to a predominantly Muslim country, to a city linking the two continents of Europe and Asia.
With the civil war in neighboring Syria posing a major issue for the Istanbul bid, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said taking the games to Turkey "will send a very meaningful and strong message, not only to the world, but to our broader region."
"At this critical moment, we would like to send a strong message of peace to the whole world from Istanbul," Erdogan said.
After the formal presentation, IOC member Prince Albert of Monaco asked what hosting the games in Turkey would mean to the wider region.
"We believe that hosting the Olympics in Istanbul will give this signal, this spirit of friendship and sharing and peace," Erdogan said. " And our country is a place where there is a lot of unity and diversity and that is the idea that we can share on a broader scale with the Olympics Games being host in Turkey."
Istanbul's bid has also been hit hard by the anti-government protests in June and a slew of doping scandals among Turkish athletes.
Turkish IOC member Ugur Erdener promised that Turkey "will continue to enforce our zero-tolerance policy on doping." Sports Minister Suat Kilic said Turkey would use criminal laws to prosecute anyone involved in promoting the use of banned substances.
"We understand that there is no gain without pain," Erdener said in response to a question. " Now we have a very organized anti-doping organization."
Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan talked up Turkey's growing economy and insisted that Istanbul's high construction budget was "financially responsible" and the money already being invested.
Erdogan and Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe of Japan and Mariano Rajoy of Spain all flew to Buenos Aires straight from the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Picking the city with the least risks shapes up as the challenge for the IOC.
Tokyo has been seen as a slight favorite, but its status has been put into question by concerns over the leak of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima plant.
Madrid, once counted out because of Spain's financial troubles, has generated the most recent buzz and momentum and could be poised for an upset win.
Istanbul looks like the outsider.
London bookmakers have been taking a rush of bets on Madrid, whose odds have been slashed from 4-1 a week ago to 5-4. Tokyo remains the betting favorite, though its odds have shortened to 5-6. Istanbul is listed at 6-1.
IOC elections are extremely unpredictable as members vote by secret ballot and take different personal reasons into account. Some members are still undecided and will be waiting for the final presentations before making up their mind.
With two IOC members absent, 95 will be eligible to vote in the first round. With a majority required for victory, the process is likely to go two rounds. The city with the fewest votes is eliminated after the first round, setting up a final head-to-head ballot. Outgoing IOC President Jacques Rogge will open a sealed envelope to announce the winner.
All three are repeat bidders: Istanbul for a fifth time overall, Madrid for a third straight and Tokyo a second in a row.
Previous bid campaigns have been marked by overriding geographic or emotional factors. In 2009, the IOC awarded the 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro because of the Brazilian city's push to take the games to South America for the first time.
There has been no feel-good theme this time as the campaign has been dominated by the negatives surrounding each bid: Syria, doping scandals and anti-government protests in Turkey; severe recession and 27 percent unemployment in Spain; and, most recently, the Fukushima leak in Japan.
Many members will also be voting with Rio in mind. The Brazilian city has been plagued by construction delays and other issues in its preparations for 2016, leaving members in search of a safe, reliable host for 2020.
"With the difficulties in Rio, many people will be thinking, 'Do we need to be with safe hands or take a few risks?" Australian IOC member John Coates said.
Tokyo has championed itself as the "safe pair of hands" but has been on the defensive this week because of Fukushima. Some IOC members are looking for Abe to deal with the issue directly in today's presentation.
Madrid has gained the most ground in recent months, weeks and days. The turnaround started at the bid city technical presentations in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July, where the Spaniards pressed their case that they offer the safest financial option: 80 percent of the venues ready and only $1.9 billion needed for construction.
Madrid also has a star performer in Crown Prince Felipe, a former Olympic sailor and Spain's flag-bearer at the 1992 Barcelona Games. He wowed the members in his speech in July and will be Madrid's featured speaker in today's presentation.