Madrid is proving to be not only a capital city that never sleeps – why go to bed when there are better things to do, like having a fiesta – but also a city that never gives up. It lost to London the first time it presented its bid to host the Olympic Summer Games for 2012. Undaunted, it applied again, for 2016, and lost to an improbable candidate, Buenos Aires.
Last 18-21 March the Evaluation Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were in Madrid for an on-site inspection and see how the city would fare against the two other aspiring organizers of the Olympics of 2020, Tokyo and Istanbul. Some of the Commission’s members, in that capacity, had been here before and were therefore landing in a quite familiar place. Madrid, for its part, welcomed the IOC like an old friend.
On the day of their arrival from Tokyo, the Commission members were taken to the Mecca of football fans around the world, the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium where the members were received by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez. They were like kids on their visit to the amusement park, kicking the ball at the regulation distance of 11 meters from the portería (goal post).
They couldn’t shoot the ball past goalkeeper Iker Casillas, captain of the Spanish national team that won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and Perez gestured to Casillas to gamely let them score a goal or two.
All in fun.
But despite the fact that the Olympics is about sports, the visit of the IOC was no fun and games and whatever friendly gestures it might adopt toward a candidate shouldn’t be taken to mean that its candidacy is in the bag. Madrid, whose bid has failed twice in a row already, knows this only too well.
The Commission members visited venues for the sporting events and assessed Madrid’s financial capacity as well as its security plans.
Finances are a sore spot for Madrid; as everyone knows, Spain is in dire straits and the Olympic costs could be prohibitively high in these circumstances. Fortunately, Madrid has been preparing itself for the Olympics since 2003 at least (some say for nearly 15 years) when Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon began his 8-year term as mayor. Consequently, 80% of the sports facilities needed to hold the Games has already been built, or so Madrid claims. It also claims that it has invested almost €6,700 million to date. It is thus estimated that if Madrid gets lucky for 2020 it only needs to spend an additional €1,670 million.
Both the local and central governments have assured the IOC that Spain can and will have no problem meeting the costs, despite the central government’s austerity program. Besides, from here to 2020 there’s more than enough time for the Spanish economy to recover.
What seemed to have worked strongly against Madrid for 2012 was the issue of security which was raised by Evaluation Commission member Prince Albert of Monaco to the deep annoyance of Spain. At the time, the terrorist group ETA (what the IRA was to Ireland) regularly planted bombs in strategic places, in its bloody campaign for the Basque country to secede from Spain. ETA, now, is all but a thing of the past; not that, with practically no probable chances of success, it isn’t trying to rise from its assassin’s ashes.
The IOC’s inspection panel has also taken note of the fact that the Spanish people’s support and enthusiasm for “Madrid 2020,” as the Madrileños fondly call their candidacy, is overwhelming, about the same as in its earlier bids: 76% of the Madrileños, and 80% of the Spanish throughout the country, are backing it. As a result, members of the IOC’s Evaluation Commission had been received in Madrid as veritable heads of state. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was on hand to receive them on their first day in the city. On their second day there were cocktails and, on their third, Crown Prince Felipe and his mother, Queen Sofia, treated them to a gala dinner.
On their last day, no less than Prince Felipe, honorary president of Madrid 2020, was there to see them off.
All this show of institutional hospitality at the topmost level mirrored the Spanish folk’s feelings about Madrid’s bid.
Madrid is better known for the warmth, the extraordinary hospitality, and the infectious alegria de vivir (joy of living) of its people rather than any particular monument. It has no Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace for visitors to identify it with, even though Madrid has its fair share of historic landmarks to help insure a memorable visit.
Madrid’s local government is only too conscious of this “deficiency”. And so, in an inspired effort to kill two birds with one stone, Madrid will hold some of the sporting events in places that characterize the city, if the IOC will let it host the Olympics: the Plaza de Toros de las Ventas, the world’s most important bullring will be venue for the basketball competition; and the magnificent 1.4 square-kilometer (350-acre) Parque del Buen Retiro (Park of Pleasant Retreat) for beach volleyball. The Retiro traces its origins to the 16th century. It belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the 19th. It is literally a park fit for royalty!
Both the bullring and the park are in the very heart of Madrid. And it is hoped that with the exposure of these two emblematic places to millions of viewers around the world during the Olympics, Madrid will begin to have recognizable landmarks. And to think that they’ve always been there, waiting for the aforementioned competitions to be held!
Craig Reedie, president of the IOC’s inspection panel, said that Tokyo is “tremendously impressive” while the Spanish capital is “extraordinarily impressive” and the two are perfectly interchangeable. In other words, IOC isn’t giving away any clue as to which city is ahead of the other in the race for the Games. And yet these enigmatic words were juxtaposed with words of encouragement like the inspection panel saying that as a veteran candidate Madrid may well have learned its lessons from past failures and could have an edge over the other two candidates.
From Madrid the IOC Evaluation Commission flew to Istanbul to assess the merits of that third aspirant. They were there from the 24th to the 27th of March.
Early in July the IOC will divulge its technical assessment of the three Olympics 2020 host candidates. And on 7 September it will announce, from Buenos Aires, who the lucky bidder is.
The motto of Madrid 2020 is “Iluminando el futuro” (“Illuminate the future”). The Madrileños – and the whole of Spain – will be keeping their fingers crossed that their near-future will be brightened up by the Olympics’ being held in their beloved city.
It takes a lot to put down the Madrileños but these are particularly hard times for them. They need to think there’s a light at the end of the dark oppressive tunnel in which they’ve been stuck for far too long. The announcement in September that the Olympics is coming to this old villa y corte in a few years’ time will be a godsend.
Lucky the third time around? Please!