LONDON (AP) — The Olympic bandwagon heads to Africa this week with bid cities, presidential candidates and sports federations chasing votes in the final weeks of their election campaigns.
A meeting of African Olympic committees in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, will be a hotbed of lobbying among the three cities bidding for the 2020 Olympics, the six contenders for IOC president and the three sports vying for a spot in the 2020 Games.
All three races are revving up ahead of the IOC voting in early September in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Last week, the bid cities — Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo — and the presidential candidates made presentations to International Olympic Committee members in Lausanne, Switzerland.
There will be no presentations during the two-day general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa, which opens on Friday. But candidates will be on site in force to stump for votes in the hallways, lobbies, bars and restaurants.
Also attending will be IOC President Jacques Rogge, making the latest stop on his farewell tour before he steps down in September after 12 years in office. African votes could be key in deciding the elections, starting with the 2020 host city decision on Sept. 7.
"I think the three bids are very close to each other," Rogge said in a conference call on Wednesday. "There is very little separation between the three bids. ... It's going to be a tight race." The competition took a potentially nasty turn this week when Spanish IOC member Marisol Casado claimed Istanbul's presentations failed to show images of women wearing headscarves in predominantly Muslim Turkey.
"There was one question that was never addressed, and that is the number of women who wear the veil," Casado said at a news conference in Madrid on Wednesday. Turkey, a country on both the Asian and European continents, is governed by secular laws. It would be the first mainly Muslim country to host the Olympics if Istanbul wins in its fifth attempt.
"Anyone who visits Istanbul will be aware that around 30 percent of women there tend to wear veils," Casado said. "People who live in Arab nations are looking for something that will be more representative of their culture."
Her comments appeared to go against IOC bid rules, which prohibit candidates from criticizing their rivals or comparing cities. IOC spokesman Mark Adams said on Thursday it would be up to the IOC ethics commission to decide whether to look into the issue.
Casado's remarks were reminiscent of statements made by Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose in April, when he said Istanbul was underdeveloped and less equipped to host the games than the Japanese capital. Inose was also quoted as saying "the only thing (Muslim countries) share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes."
The governor later apologized. The 2020 bid delegations began arriving in Abidjan on Thursday for the meeting of more than 50 national Olympic committees from Africa. Istanbul said it received the backing of Ivory Coast football stars Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Eboue, who play for Turkish club Galatasaray.
"Istanbul would be an ideal host for the 2020 Olympics," Drogba said in a statement issued by the bid committee. "It just has that magic that athletes love." Istanbul, whose bid has been hit by anti-government demonstrations in Turkey and a slew of doping scandals among Turkish athletes, played up its pitch to take the Olympics to a new part of the world.
"Istanbul is in a region that has never hosted the games, just like Africa," bid leader Hasan Arat said. "We understand the challenges of African sport and we understand the huge ambition of other nations that have not hosted the games."
Tokyo also cited Japan's ties to Africa, noting that Japan announced a new program last week to send sports coaches and equipment to developing countries. Bid leader Tsunekazu Takeda added Japan has sent more than 10,000 judo uniforms to Africa in recent years.
Madrid, bidding for a third straight time, has sought to portray a low-cost approach amid Spain's economic crisis. The Spanish team said only two people would go to Africa — bid leader Alejandro Blanco and international relations chief Theresa Zabell.
Also looking for support are the presidential candidates: IOC Vice Presidents Thomas Bach of Germany and Ng Ser Miang of Singapore, executive board members Sergei Bubka of Ukraine and C.K. Wu of Taiwan, and former board members Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico and Denis Oswald of Switzerland.
All but one of the IOC's eight presidents since 1894 have come from Europe, but Rogge said he doesn't think that will matter in the Sept. 10 election. "I don't think this factor will play in the election of my successor," he said. "My colleagues will go for the man they think is most able to lead the IOC. They will not link it to a nationality or to a continent."
At stake on Sept. 8 will be a single opening on the 2020 sports program — with wrestling competing against squash and a combined baseball-softball bid. Wrestling was surprisingly removed from the program in February, but later made the short list for possible inclusion. Wrestling federation FILA will be represented in Abidjan by Alioune Sarr, chairman of Senegal's wrestling council.