Japanese rejoice over win to host 2020 Games
Whoops of delight greeted the announcement that Tokyo would host the 2020 Summer Olympics. People were clapping and hugging each other just as gold streamers fell on the cheering crowd.
Hundreds of people had crowded into the Komazawa gymnasium, one of several public viewing venues in Tokyo. Some had arrived as early as 10.00pm local time even though the announcement would only be made past 5.00am local time.
Tokyo will now be the fifth city to have the honour of hosting the Olympics more than once, the others being Paris, Athens, Los Angeles, and London, which has hosted the Games three times.
The last time the Olympics was held in Tokyo was in 1964. The nation had recovered from its defeat in World War II and was making great strides as a modern nation. Then, the Games marked Japan's reacceptance into the international community and symbolised its recovery.
This time, it's almost the same narrative. Japan is rebuilding after a massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake and a tsunami struck its north east coast in 2011. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, crippled in the disasters, is still leaking radioactive water into the ocean daily.
Sports Director for Tokyo's bid, Yuko Arakida said, "…we hope that by hosting the Games it will bring inspiration and solace to the children of the area (Fukushima)."
It was also this ongoing nuclear crisis that threatened to derail Tokyo's status as favourite.
The Tokyo team was banking on Japan's reputation as a "safe pair of hands".
The Japanese have the experience and know-how to deliver on big sporting events. It has hosted one Summer Olympics, two Winter Olympics, and co-hosted the 2002 Footbball World Cup with South Korea in 2002.
On top of that, factor in its world-class infrastructure, efficient public transportation, low crime rate and you have got a winner on your hands.
But the "safe" factor was being called into question because of a slew of damaging disclosures about the nuclear crisis in recent weeks. The company in charge of the power plant admitted in August that hundreds of tons of contaminated groundwater flow into the sea daily.
The government swung into damage control mode. Days before the International Olympics Committee members were due to vote, the Japanese government unveiled a plan on how it would deal with contaminated water and committed close to half a billion dollars for the plan.
At the final presentation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged concerns about the nuclear crisis and said, "Let me assure you, the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo."
It seems that assurance, and Japan's experience may have won over the IOC members in the end.