The Capital of Expo 2020 will be decided by technology, not David Cameron

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Earlier this week, the Prime Minister threw his weight behind Dubai’s candidature for Expo 2020, but it will be technology, not politicians, that will decide which city wins the prize.

The World’s Fair, or what became known as Expo, after the 1967 show in Montreal, has always been the place where innovative products have been presented to the world.

The telephone, electricity, broadcast television, the X-ray machine, the diesel engine and more recently, the IMAX (Frankfurt: IMA.F - news) , the mobile phone and the touchscreen have all made their debuts at these shows.

While the event’s reputation has seemed to dim in recent years, (does anybody remember that the last Expo in 2012 was held in Yeosu, South Korea?), the city that holds the show has a six-month window to show itself to the world and hope that a product such as those previously mentioned will highlight their tenancy of the event.

The winner of Expo 2020 will be one of four cities and announced in Paris later this month on November 27th. The four cities involved are Sao Paulo in Brazil, Izmir in Turkey, Ekaterinburg in Russia and Dubai in the UAE.

This week, the latter city was endorsed by David Cameron when he somewhat slavishly threw his weight behind the city’s nomination. His support, however, is understandable.

There are more than 100,000 UK nationals working there and it is an important business partner for the country. If Dubai wins, pavilions will need to be built and the whole ecosystem will mean more jobs for people in the UK.

But whether Dubai wins the nomination, and it was a very late entrant, remains very much in the balance. Cameron’s support is unlikely to tip the balance.

If David Beckham couldn’t win the 2022 World Cup for England, then a politician with a vested interest won’t win 2020 EXPO for Dubai; for some it might even put people off. When Tony Blair announced he wore clothes by Paul Smith, I, among many others, immediately stopped shopping there.

Whoever wins, it will be a first for the world’s fair. It has never previously been held in Russia, Brazil, Turkey or the Middle-East and perhaps Cameron may have been better-advised to have supported a bid from the UK.

This country hasn’t held the event since 1862 (not counting Dublin in 1909 when we were the United Kingdom of Britain and Ireland (Other OTC: IRLD - news) ) and there are no bids on the table.

So it’s clear Cameron’s support for another country may be the way the UK bids in the future; use a proxy without spending money on the nomination and profit with jobs and investment by association.

But what of the three other contenders? Sao Paulo and Izmir are globally known, but Ekaterinburg? As a Russian friend said to me recently, people in Russia don’t even know where Ekaterinburg is.

Apparently it is the fourth-largest city in Russia and the capital of the Urals. The city is going through an economic boom, is mineral-rich and probably has the most interesting history of the four contenders.

It is where the Romanov family of Tsar Nicholas II were murdered by the Bolsheviks in July 1918 and was a ‘closed city’ until 1990 because of local defence plants. It would be a remarkable transformation for the city if, 30 years later, it was to be the Capital (OTC BB: CGHCE - news) of Expo 2020.

Sao Paulo needs little introduction. It has a bigger population than Rio, is the world’s seventh city and is the host of the world’s largest gay pride parade. This fact alone easily differentiates it from Russia’s Ekaterinburg after the country’s recent controversy with gay rights.

Then there is Izmir, Turkey’s third most populous city and the country’s Mediterranean jewel. Formerly known as Symma until 1930, Izmir offers a great climate and only lost out in the vote for Expo 2015 when Milan won the final vote 86-65. This should mark it out as a favourite, but cities that have failed before rarely win the next time around.

So, whether Cameron thinks, it is going to be a close-run thing and a tough one for the 167 member states to vote on. The crucial aspect for these members, however, may be the reason Expo became famous in the first place.

Whether is was the telephone in 1876 or the mobile phone in 1970 or even electricity in 1904, it is new products or technology that make Expos famous. The city out of the four nominees that can persuade the voters that they will be able to produce similar genius will be the winners.

Cameron announced in his Dubai homily that it was Crystal Palace at the world’s first Great Exhibition in 1851 that ‘observers looking at glass glittering in the sun and thought it resembled something out of the Arabian Nights’.

That may have been so, but this is the real world and not a fairytale. Crystal (KOSDAQ: 083790.KQ - news) Palace was burnt to the ground in 1936 and the winner of Expo 2020 will be the city that loves technology, and probably not the one whose champion is the Prime Minister of another country altogether.