March 7 - Tokyo's campaign to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics reached a possibly seminal turning point when more than half-a-million turned up to celebrate the performance of Japan's team at London 2012, bid leader Tsunekazu Takeda today told insidethegames.
It stoked a revival in support for the Japanese capital's bid, leading to the announcement here during the visit of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Evaluation Commission that an independent poll conducted by them to gauge the level of support had reached 70 per cent, a massive increase from last May when only 47 per cent backed it.
The figure helped contribute to the good assessment given to Tokyo 2020 by Britain's Sir Craig Reedie (pictured top), chairman of the IOC Evaluation Commission, as it completed its four-day visit.
"We have been very pleased to spend time here in an extraordinary city, Tokyo," Sir Craig told a packed press conference here.
"We have been hugely impressed by the quality of the bid presentations made by the Bid Committee.
"Across the board, they have just been excellent."
As is normal at the end of these Evaluation visits, Sir Craig evaded going into specifics about too much, including the poll figures.
Four years ago poor public support undermined Tokyo's failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, which were awarded to Rio de Janeiro.
"We did the poll, we published them, it's for other people to claim they are happy or otherwise," said Sir Craig.
But Takeda had no doubt about their significance, even though they were lower than the 83 per cent that the Shimbun Yomiuri claimed backed the bid in a survey published earlier this week.
Nevertheless, they are two per cent higher than public approval was in London at a similar stage of its successful campaign for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics when the IOC carried out an independent poll.
"I'm very pleased," Takeda told insidethegames after Sir Craig had praised the bid.
"When I had a press conference two years ago I told them the first target was 70 per cent.
"Then last May it was 47 - I was so shocked.
"Then at the Olympics in London we had a record number of 38 medals and after that many Japanese were so happy."
The parade on August 20 in the main street of Tokyo's Ginza shopping district, which saw Japan's athletes appear on red open-top London double-decker buses, drew a crowd of cheering, flag-waving fans 50 times larger than had been estimated.
"We didn't expect 500,000, we thought maybe 10,000," said Takeda.
"After that the public support [for Tokyo 2020] went up.
"It was a big turning point for us."
Many of the medallists who appeared in Ginza, including wrestler Saori Yoshida, who won her third consecutive Olympic gold medal at London 2012, were part of the Tokyo 2020 team that showed IOC officials around here.
"They were prepared to talk about what their hopes and dreams are, and comment about their sport and their city," said Sir Craig.
"The best thing about the Games here would be exactly what happened in my own city of London.
"We share enthusiasm, the movement for sport, the development for sport...all of that will take part."
Tokyo pitched to the IOC Evaluation Commission on 14 themes, which the bid cities described in their Candidature Files in January.
They included vision, finance, marketing, political and public support, transportation, security and environment.
Prime Minister Shinzō Abe had addressed the Commission during the opening session on Monday (March 4) and they also met Crown Prince Naruhito, a significant development from four years ago when Japan's Royal family were conspicuous only by their lack of involvement.
Abe also hosted a dinner at the State Guest House, the Government facility established to accommodate heads of the states, near Akasaka Palace last night and which was also attended by many of Japan's top sportsmen and women.
"We have been witnessing strong Government support which the bid enjoys," said Sir Craig.
"That was highlighted by the presence of Prime Minister Abe and many Government Ministers throughout the visit.
"We also benefited from the contributions from a wide range of Japanese business community,"
Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose, however, tried to ensure that the positive reaction of the Commission would not make the rest of the team complacent.
"This is about at the halfway point of a marathon," he said.
"The most crucial time is now.
"We must keep running this marathon for the next six months."
The Commission will next travel to Madrid for its inspection between March 18 and 21, followed by a trip to Istanbul from March 24 until 27.
Uniquely, among the heads of the recent IOC Evaluation Commissions Sir Craig has experienced the process from both sides, having been the chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA) and heavily involved in London's bid.
"It is the most complex and challenging project that any city or country can undertake," he warned what would follow if Tokyo's bid is successful and elected by the IOC at its Session in Buenos Aires on September 7.
"Certainly this was my experience with London.
"You need to build a team, you need to build facilities, you need to have political support, you need to raise the money, enthuse the country, and hope that the sun shines when you're organising the Games."
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