Reuters

Bidding for the 2020 games is heating up. Local support bolsters unlikely Baku

Olympic season is about to kick into high gear. No, not the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but the bidding to become the next selected event host. Six cities are in the running to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, and will have the next year and a half to make their case.

They’ll have to convince the event’s organizing body, the International Olympic Committee, which will announce the winning city in September 2013. They’ll also have to do some lobbying at home, to prepare for what can be a fabulously expensive occasion.

Based on some recent polling, there seems to be a front-runner at least in terms of local support: Baku, Azerbaijan.

A recent poll found that 95 percent of people in Azerbaijan support Baku’s bid to host the 2020 games. It would be the first major international event to take place in Azerbaijan. Fifty percent of people polled in Baku and Ganja, the second largest city located 200 miles to the west, said they would buy tickets to attend the event should the city win its bid.

Also in the running are Doha, Istanbul, Madrid, Rome and Tokyo. Just 65.7 percent of Japanese people nationwide support the Tokyo bid. The 65 percent returns are below a 70 percent target some in the bid’s leadership had reportedly set. But, according to the Mainichi Daily News, "[t]he latest results were better than the 62 percent national support rate and 60 percent rate in Tokyo recorded at almost the same point ahead of the failed 2016 bid." Tokyo had been a finalist with Chicago and Madrid for the 2016, awarded to Rio de Janeiro.

For Madrid, this is the third consecutive Summer Olympic bid. The city was the second place finisher in the bid for the 2016 games, which has fueled support for another try. But as the city and Spain face tight economic times, the prospect of investing millions of dollars in a bid and potentially billions of dollars in hosting duties is a tougher sell. Despite the economic hardships and plans to cut the city’s debt by about $4 billion by 2016, Madrid’s new mayor is committed to the city’s bid.

Another experienced bidder is Istanbul, which is now in its fifth campaign to host the Summer Olympics. And Doha, the small but up-and-coming city in Qatar, is hoping to build on its sporting reputation after being named the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Despite Italy’s compounding economic downturn, a recent poll found that 74 percent of Italians and 77 percent of Romans support Rome’s bid – even with the event’s total cost estimated at $12.5 billion. Both Italy and Spain received negative ratings in a recent credit evaluation of the bidding countries by Moody’s. Qatar rated the highest.

Applicant cities will be handing in proposals for hosting early next month, and the IOC will be naming a shortlist in May. In terms of local support, Baku seems to have the rest of the competition beat.

There are some other complications though. Baku would need to build much of the necessary infrastructure basically from scratch. Their relatively restrictive visa restrictions would likely need a tweak before they could host a major international event. And according to the CIA Factbook, Azerbaijan has the lowest per capita GDP of the potential hosts, which might make it difficult for locals to actually afford tickets.

Still, being a relatively small city in a comparatively less-well-known country, Baku (and Azerbaijan) arguably have much more to gain from potentially hosting a high-profile PR-friendly event like the Olympics. But the Summer Olympics is also a major moneymaker for the IOC, and local support may not be enough to convince the organization to gamble its flagship event on a city like Baku.

Photo credit: Issei Kato/Reuters

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