BUENOS AIRES — Tokyo was selected Saturday to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in what was considered a safe rather than transformative choice in a time of political and economic uncertainty around the globe.
After Japan’s prime minister gave an emphatic assurance of safety regarding the country’s 2011 nuclear disaster and continuing concerns about radioactivity, Tokyo easily defeated Istanbul and Madrid to be named host of the Summer Games for a second time.
“When I heard the name Tokyo, I was so touched, overwhelmed,” said Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. “The joy was even greater than when I won my own election.”
The decision was met with elation in Japan, where it was seen as a vote of international support for the nation’s efforts to pull itself out of a long economic and political decline and to overcome the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident two years ago.
Winning the Games also appeared to affirm Abe’s efforts to restore Japan’s confidence at a time when it has appeared increasingly eclipsed by neighboring China.
“Japan has seemed to be overshadowed by the rise of China and other developing nations,” said Harumi Arima, an independent political analyst. “These Olympics will give Japanese a chance to feel reborn, to feel for themselves that Japan can still be vibrant.”
For the International Olympic Committee, environmental concerns in Japan appeared less urgent than the Syrian war on Turkey’s border, a harsh crackdown against antigovernment protesters recently in Istanbul and Spain’s economic recession and high unemployment.
The Olympic movement has also been buffeted by protests in Brazil over heavy government spending for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro. And there has been criticism of what the West considers antigay legislation passed in Russia ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort city Sochi, a Games that will come with a $50 billion price tag.
Amid such economic, political and human rights maelstroms, Tokyo was seen as a calm harbor. It won handily over Istanbul in the second round of voting, 60-36, in a secret ballot of Olympic delegates.
Tokyo presented its bid as a “safe pair of hands,” an appeal that clearly resonated with Olympic officials.
“This is something that appeals to me as a surgeon,” said Jacques Rogge, the president of the Olympic committee and a retired orthopedist from Belgium, who did not vote Saturday, as is tradition.
Tokyo hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics, and Japan has twice hosted the Winter Games, in Sapporo in 1972 and in Nagano in 1998. Japan also hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea and has repeatedly shown it can organize the world’s largest sporting events. It has a reserve fund worth $4.5 billion to build stadiums for the 2020 Games.
“The members wanted to have a choice between a bid addressing tradition and stability and another bid that was addressing new projects,” said Thomas Bach, an I.O.C. delegate from Germany who is expected to succeed Rogge as president. “In today’s political and economic situation, the clear tendency was toward tradition and stability.”
Kevan Gosper, an I.O.C. delegate from Australia, said Tokyo represented “a pretty secure option and demonstrates a shift in world activity and economics and sport toward Asia,” a reference to the 2008 Summer Games, held in Beijing, and the 2018 Winter Games, which will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Prince Albert, an I.O.C. delegate from Monaco, said Saturday’s result also might have represented a strategy by the Olympic committee, which is Eurocentric, to vote for an Asian host with an eye toward returning the Summer Games to Europe in 2024.
Richard W. Pound, an I.O.C. member from Montreal, said he would not rule out the chances of the United States, which is expected to bid on the 2024 Games and has not hosted a Summer Olympics since the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The United States Olympic Committee and the I.O.C. recently settled a feud over sharing rights to television and sponsorship fees.
“If we are in kiss-and-make-up with the U.S., then why not?” Pound said of the potential American chances.
Although Istanbul, the Turkish metropolis, did better than many expected in finishing second to Tokyo, it lost a fifth attempt to host the Games. They would have been the first held in a predominantly Muslim country.
Some I.O.C. delegates had expressed reluctance trying to forecast Turkey’s political situation seven years from now, given regional instability, what some critics in the country call the autocratic governing style of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a divide between secularists and Islamists.
Madrid was considered to be making a late charge, but ultimately it was the first city eliminated, failing for a third consecutive time to be named an Olympic host.
Apparently, Madrid was unable to allay concerns by the Olympic committee that it could stage a successful Games, even at a relatively low cost, in a climate of recession and high unemployment that has left half of Spain’s youths without jobs.
During Saturday’s final pitches to the Olympic committee, both Madrid and Istanbul faced pointed questions about their countries’ poor records in combating doping. Tokyo noted that no Japanese athlete had ever tested positive for banned substances at the Olympics.
As Tokyo made its final presentation, Abe, Japan’s prime minister, addressed the issue of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, which is about 155 miles from Tokyo. The nuclear disaster there is considered the worst since Chernobyl’s in 1986, and problems have plagued the cleanup and control efforts.
“Let me assure you that the situation is under control,” Abe said. “It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.”
Gerhard Heiberg, an I.O.C. delegate from Norway, asked Abe how he could make such guarantees. Abe replied that there were no health-related problems related to the nuclear disaster, “nor will there be in the future.”
The Japanese government has pledged nearly $500 million to try to stabilize the nuclear plant, including the building of a frozen wall to curb the flow of groundwater into the contaminated buildings at the reactor site.
Some critics have accused Japanese leaders of being misleading or in denial about the severity of the radiation problem. South Korea, for instance, has banned fish imports from the Fukushima area. But Olympic delegates were sufficiently convinced that the nuclear disaster would not hinder the 2020 Games.
“A lot of folks have been reading in the media that hundreds of tons of radioactive water are being fed into the Pacific every day,” Pound said.
Abe seemed to be saying, “I’m satisfied on that so that nothing will happen,” according to Pound, who added, “If there’s another earthquake or something like that, that’s not something you can blame the prime minister for.”
Some analysts said they hoped winning the 2020 Olympics would give Tokyo the same sort of economic boost, and rebirth in spirit, that the city experienced the last time it hosted the Summer Games, in 1964.
Those Olympics are still vividly remembered as proclaiming the success of Japan’s recovery from the ashes of World War II and launching the modern city of highways and bullet trains.
Shusei Tanaka, a political scientist at Fukuyama University, said that Tokyo would get not only an expected economic boost of $30 billion in new growth, but also a chance to reinvent itself in the 21st century.
“I feel like I did during the last Olympics, when I was still a university student,” Tanaka, 72, said. “Why am I so excited this time? I think it’s the natural disaster. We have a chance to build a new economy, hopefully without nuclear power, and to build a new urban lifestyle.”
Jeré Longman reported from Buenos Aires and Martin Fackler from Tokyo. Reporting was contributed by Hiroko Tabuchi and Joshua Hunt from Tokyo, Raphael Minder from Madrid and Ceylan Yeginsu from Istanbul