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Sunday, July 15, 2001

Osaka in dismay after first-round elimination

Staff writer

OSAKA -- Osaka's decade-long dream to host the 2008 Olympics officially ended late Friday night when the International Olympic Committee eliminated the city after the first round of voting and awarded the Games to Beijing.

Although the loss had been widely expected, Mayor Takafumi Isomura expressed shock when it was announced that Osaka had received only six votes out of the 105 cast by IOC members.

"We were handicapped by the fact that we were first-time bidders and we will bid again," he told a news conference in Moscow following the vote.

Despite the poor chances of beating Beijing, Osaka officials threw a party before the final vote that was attended by nearly 2,000 Olympic supporters. The revelers gathered at the Twin Tower building in Osaka Business Park from about 9 p.m. for a series of performances, such as taiko drumming, prior to a live telecast of the IOC vote in Moscow.

Despite low expectations, the city turned what might have been a somber event into a festival. "We know the Olympics are going to Beijing," said Seizo Ikeda, 35, at the start of the event. "But that doesn't mean we have to be all depressed about it."

But shortly after 11 p.m. the IOC announced a second round of voting would take place between four finalists: Beijing, Paris, Toronto and Istanbul.

"What happened? What's going on?" shouted several angry voices in front of a makeshift stage where local entertainer Jun Hamada was serving as master of ceremonies.

It wasn't until several hours later that Osaka learned that only six IOC members had voted for the city.

"We did what we could. We followed the (IOC bidding) rules, although the low number of votes was unexpected," said Vice Mayor Junichi Seki, also in Moscow.

In Osaka, Toshio Dozaki, another vice mayor who was holding the fort while Isomura and other officials were in Moscow, congratulated Beijing but vowed the city will continue building sports facilities and perhaps try again.

"Osaka had a good bid," Dozaki said in summing up the loss. "But rules restricting visits to bid cities by IOC members as well as the city's low recognition level abroad worked against us."

None of the Osaka officials suggested how support for another bid might be raised. Osaka's bid was heavily criticized, with opponents saying it was led by city hall and big business and did not have widespread popular support.

This was confirmed in May, when an IOC independent survey showed only 52 percent of residents wanted the Olympics, the lowest figure of any of the five cities attempting to host the 2008 Games.

Now, with over 5 trillion yen in outstanding debt from municipal bond issues, there is growing concern over spending more tax money on another bid. The 2008 bid is estimated to have cost between 4.7 billion yen -- the figure released by the city -- and 5.3 billion yen, a projection by citizens' groups.

There are also calls for the mayor, who returns to Osaka today, to resign to take responsibility for the loss.

Kazuhito Konishi, head of the Osaka Anti-Olympics Union, said his group will pressure Isomura to quit and is discussing with other citizens' groups the possibility of launching a campaign for a recall if the mayor refuses to bow out.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka issued a statement Friday night expressing regret that Osaka's crusade to host the Games had failed despite the efforts of both the central government and the bid committee.

She also congratulated Beijing and expressed heartfelt hope that the Beijing Olympics would be a success.

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The Japan Times

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