Football centre-stage in 2020 Olympics race

Olympic voteBy David Owen in Buenos Aires
September 5 – The power of football is much in evidence as the high-stakes battle for the 2020 Olympics enters its eleventh hour in this elegant South American city beside the river Plate. In recent days, a string of leading football figures have played walk-on parts as the contest builds to its dramatic denouement on September 7, when 100 or so International Olympic Committee (IOC) members will choose between Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo as the city that will follow London and Rio de Janeiro as the next Summer Games host.

Two much-respected football luminaries, whose careers have included Japanese sojourns, have pledged support for Tokyo's bid.

First. Arsène Wenger, Arsenal's long-serving manager, who was once boss of Nagoya Grampus Eight in the Japanese J League, let it be known that he was "confident that everyone will be inspired should Tokyo host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games".

Then Brazil legend Zico, a former coach of the Japan national team, said he would be "very happy" if the Japanese capital won the "honour" of hosting the Games.

Istanbul 2020 bid chairman Hasan Arat, meanwhile, took time out from his hectic schedule to attend a Boca Juniors match at the famous Bombonera stadium, observing that he felt "right at home".

In recent days, though, the spotlight has switched, predictably enough, to Argentina's most famous current exponent of the world's biggest sport, Lionel Messi, whose image - as part of a Turkish Airlines advertising campaign - is one of the first things bleary-eyed travellers see as they cluster around the baggage carousels of Buenos Aires airport trying to pick out their luggage.

Partly because of this, no doubt, Madrid bid leaders have taken pains to try and secure a public expression of support for the hispanic bid from FC Barcelona's leading superstar.

And yesterday Madrid bid leader Alejandro Blanco got his man: "I think it is good for sport if Madrid is awarded the Games," Messi pronounced from the sanctuary of Argentina's training camp, where they are preparing for a World Cup qualifying match against Paraguay.

Football will also be well represented in the voting booths once the rhetoric stops and decision-time arrives: three FIFA high-ups - President Sepp Blatter, Vice-President Issa Hayatou and Executive Committee member Lydia Nsekera all have a direct say in the outcome of what is a tight contest.

Contact the wrIter of this story at david.owen@insideworldfootball,com