The Olympic Games, in its classic summer iteration, is too expensive an endeavor to be trusted to cities that are too poor, too inexperienced or too perilous to host the world. On Saturday, the International Olympic Committee decided that Tokyo was the best place to stage the 2020 games.
The choice was understandable. Madrid, the hope of an economically distressed nation, was eliminated in the first round, leaving only Istanbul.
While Turkey might be able to afford the expense, it sits in a turbulent, sometimes dangerous, part of the world, sharing a border with Syria, Iraq and Iran and it has had its own problems with Muslim fundamentalists shaking its secular foundations. There is no certainty that any of this will change by 2020. Although Istanbul is one of the world's great cities, it has no experience in hosting an event as large as the Olympics.
Not so Tokyo, which hosted the 1964 summer games. Japan has also hosted two winter Olympics -- Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998 -- as well the FIFA World Cup in 2002 jointly with South Korea. While Japan has been in the economic doldrums for years, the Japanese are a highly organized and technologically savvy people and Tokyo has great infrastructure and a low crime rate.
Tokyo was first selected to host the summer games in 1940 but went to war in China and the games were never held. For the Japanese, the 1964 games in Tokyo marked their full return to the community of nations after the shame and devastation of their defeat less than 20 years before.
They were a happy Games -- the first to be televised to the world in real time. Judo (for men only) and women's volleyball (not the later beach variety) became Olympic sports. Then, as now, the United States was a sports superpower. In swimming, American men won seven of the 10 gold medals and American women won six of eight golds. Sprinter Bob Hayes was victorious in the 100-meter race. Joe Frazier triumphed as a boxing heavyweight.
After Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Tokyo should do nicely. The only threat to this safe choice is the cleanup of the Fukushima nuclear disaster site, which still needs a lot of work to contain. If the Olympics spurs national pride to greater and more extraordinary efforts on that problem, the world will have double reason to rejoice.