The Madrid 2020 Olympic bid — which marked the third consecutive attempt by the Spanish capital to secure the Games — failed, and this time it did so in surprising fashion. After starting out as the favorite, the city was eliminated in the first round of voting in favor of Istanbul and Tokyo. It is a disappointing defeat that should not be entirely blamed on the quality of the Spanish project. The International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s voting system, based on a secret ballot, means that it is impossible to know the reasons that ultimately tipped the balance against the Spanish capital.
The Madrid bid deserved better than the eventual result. It had the greatest popular support of all three bidders, and its project, which has matured over eight years, was solvent and austere. With 80 percent of the necessary infrastructure already in place, it would have required a smaller investment — around 1.52 billion euros — than that needed in either of the other two cities. It also has a reasonably extensive network of quality transportation (better than Istanbul), even though Tokyo, the ultimate winner, was the toughest rival and had the benefit of a very strong project without the financial problems of the other two bidders. Madrid is the Spanish municipality with the highest level of public debt. Organizing the 2020 Olympic Games would have represented a significant breather for a city and for an entire country mired in recession and soaring unemployment.
The trouble with the IOC’s voting system is that it is hard to learn from one’s defeats. It is impossible to know a bidder’s sports-related or organizational shortcomings. Tokyo also attempted to host the 2016 Games, which ultimately went to Rio de Janeiro, but back then Madrid outdid the Japanese capital in the early rounds, which gives a sense of how much both bids were on an equal footing. True, in between both attempts there was an economic crisis that has significantly eroded Spain’s international image. The doping scandals that have hit the headlines in recent years have not helped, either.
For the second time in history, Tokyo will be organizing the Olympic Games. Its bid was solid, and rejecting it over fears of the radioactive leaks at the Fukushima nuclear plant following the terrible tsunami of 2011 would have been unfair. As for Madrid, once defeat has been accepted, it will be time to reflect on the appropriateness of insisting on another run at the Games — or whether it would be best to focus on managing the city in a way that reduces debt levels, putting aside the Olympic dream for now. What is needed after Saturday is some hard analysis, just as it is necessary for Spain to get over the crisis and provide fresh encouragement in the field of sport. The Barcelona Olympics of 1992 were a powerful incentive for a support program for athletes that turned out to be a great success. Even though high debts are a pervasive ill in this country right now, it makes no sense to keep aiming to host the Games at the same time as Spanish athletes are neglected because of budget cuts.