By STEPHEN WILSON
LONDON (AP) â¿¿ Seven months before the vote, the International Olympic Committee is sending a panel of experts on a series of site-inspection visits that could prove influential in the race to host the 2020 Summer Games.
The IOC's evaluation commission is heading to Japan this week on the first leg of its three-city tour to examine the bids from Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul â¿¿ a key phase in assessing the pros and cons of the multi-billion dollar projects.
Chaired by IOC Vice President Craig Reedie of Britain, the 14-member panel will meet in each city with bid leaders, visit proposed venues and hone in on issues such as finances, accommodations, transportation, security and public support.
The commission will later compile a detailed technical report that will be submitted to the 100-plus IOC members who will select the host city by secret ballot Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
"The interesting thing about this one is that all three have been candidates before on a number of occasions," Reedie said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press before flying to Tokyo on Thursday.
Istanbul is bidding again after four unsuccessful attempts, Madrid is back for a third time in a row and Tokyo for a second consecutive try. Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympics, and Spain held the games in Barcelona in 1992. Istanbul is seeking to bring the games to a new region and to a predominantly Muslim nation for the first time.
The IOC visits come with all three countries facing serious political or economic challenges.
"The whole evaluation process .... is in some ways a risk assessment," Reedie said.
Spain is still in a deep recession with 25 percent unemployment, and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been fending off allegations that he received money from a slush fund. Japan is trying to revive a stagnant economy and is engaged in a potentially volatile territorial dispute with China over uninhabited islands. Turkey is dealing with the spillover of the civil war in neighboring Syria, and the U.S. Embassy in Ankara was hit by a suicide bombing Feb. 1 that killed the attacker and a Turkish security guard.