TOKYO (AFP) - Tokyo won praise from an IOC team scrutinising its bid for the 2020 Summer Games but commentators say it needs to boost its lobbying clout if is to impress Olympic chiefs.
The Japanese capital spent a reported US$6.4 million (S$8 million) hosting a tour by the International Olympic Committee evaluation commission who will visit rival candidate cities Madrid and Istanbul later this month.
Over four days, they attended functions and presentations involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Toyota chairman Fujio Cho and other dignitaries. They toured existing and planned sites for 2020, where they were welcomed by cheering crowds of Olympians and citizens.
"We have been hugely impressed by the quality of bid presentations," the commission's chairman, IOC vice president Craig Reedie, said in his summing up on Thursday.
He also noted "strong government support," wide-ranging contributions from the business community and public "enthusiasm" in Tokyo.
But the commission is famous for its diplomatic finesse.
"Wherever they go, they never put you down publicly even if they rate you negatively," Waseda University sports marketing professor Munehiko Harada, who has been involved in Japan's previous Olympic bids, told AFP.
The team will prepare a lengthy technical report on the bids for the 101 IOC members before they directly hear appeals from the three cities on July 3 to July 4. They will finally vote on September 7 in Buenos Aires to choose the 2020 host.
"Top-level diplomacy will lead the race now. This is where Japan lags behind," Harada said, citing Greece's pledge to support Istanbul's bid at a summit with Turkey this week.
When Tokyo lost to Rio de Janeiro four years ago in the race for the 2016 Games, then Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara said "invisible dynamics were at play" in a selection possibly influenced by top-level nation-to-nation deals.
"Insufficient lobbying was cited as a reason for the defeat," public broadcaster NHK said. "Tokyo's ability in this area was put to the test."
Despite a few question marks, Rio de Janeiro's 2016 bid was described by the commission in a technical report as "detailed and of a very high quality" while the other candidates - Tokyo, Chicago and Madrid - were given lower marks. Rio became the first South American Olympic host.
At that time, IOC president Jacques Rogge was "intent" on spreading the Olympics to South America," a Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) official told Jiji Press. "Japan should have noticed the trend in the IOC."
"It is reasonable to assume that Istanbul has an advantage this time as it is pushing the message that it could be the first host of the Games from the Islamic sphere," the business daily Nikkei said.
Tokyo is the only one among the 2020 bidders that has hosted the Olympics before - in 1964.
JOC president and Tokyo bid chief Tsunekazu Takeda said the city could host another Games in a "safe, secure and steady manner", like 2012 hosts London, which has now held three editions.
Mr Takeda, an equestrian and the great-grandson of Emperor Meiji, is the sole Japanese member in the IOC, a self-appointed body including high-profile royal family members, business leaders and former Olympians.
Tokyo appeared to lack such personalities as then-premier Tony Blair and football superstar David Beckham who helped London win the Games, the Tokyo Shimbun said.
But Japan can lobby Arab countries for support by pledging to help Doha next time around, the daily said citing a sports commentator.
Doha failed to make the 2020 shortlist and if Istanbul wins the bid it will make it difficult for another city with a large Muslim population to fulfill its Olympic dream soon.
"It is going to be a kind of gamble from now as the chance is 50-50," said Harada. "It is impossible to read how the IOC members will vote."