Turkey makes strong case to host 2020 Olympic Games

(L to R) Paralympian and İstanbul 2020 envoy Gizem Girismen, Sports Minister Kilic, Deputy PM Babacan and Chairman Arat speak during a news conference in Lausanne. (Photo: AP)

July 07, 2013, Sunday/ 12:42:00

İstanbul and its two competitors, Madrid and Tokyo, presented their pitches to host the 2020 Olympic Games to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

July 3 was the first time that the candidate countries addressed the committee in person. Each was allotted 45 minutes to present their cases before 84 members of the committee, with an additional 45 minutes for questions and answers.

İstanbul remains confident in its fifth bid to date to host the games despite the recent police brutality against anti-government protesters across the country.

The presentations were held behind closed doors, but Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan spoke to reporters following the meeting. "I did speak about the protests, but there were no questions about the protests," Reuters quoted him as saying. He remained confident in İstanbul's bid.

Chance encounters

Turkey's claim to fame is its economy, one of the few did not succumb to the global recession. According to Babacan, Turkey plans to invest $400 billion in infrastructure before 2020.

Many considered Turkey a shoe-in for its fifth bid to host the event. The peaceful anti-government protests, duly answered with heavy-handed police intervention and divisive words from the government, posed a threat to the bid, but things are looking up.

“Peaceful, non-violent protests are certainly a basic human right, and we do not have a problem with this,” Babacan stated. Those who watched the action may disagree with his assessment. However, the Gezi Park project, which kicked off the protests, has been halted. Of course that is only one of the issues that the demonstrators were protesting, but İstanbul has been quiet for well over a week.

The protests did at least partially prove one of Babacan's points. “Turkey has a young and dynamic population,” he said, adding, “People did not pour into the streets to protest unemployment or basic human rights.”

A bigger question at the presentation was about traffic, which the İstanbul 2020 delegation assures will be addressed with infrastructure projects. All the candidate countries previously submitted detailed reports to the IOC members outlining the facts and figures. Traffic was addressed in depth in the report.

İstanbul has the added feature of being a brand-new venue for the Olympics. The games have never before been held in a predominantly Muslim country. A change of pace might prove exciting and alluring.

Stiff competition

Madrid's claim to a successful organization of the Olympics lies in its existing infrastructure, plus the sparkling personality of Crown Prince Felipe, himself a former Olympic sailor. After his presentation on Wednesday, Madrid is a more serious contender than otherwise thought by many.

Like Turkey, Spain managed to dodge uncomfortable questions regarding its biggest flaw. "There were no questions about the economic situation of Spain, the country has more confidence and more credibility than before," said Madrid 2020 President Alejandro Blanco.

The Spanish campaign notes that minimal investment will be required to host the games as 80 percent of the infrastructure is already in place in the city. Sounds just right for a suffering economy.

Japan showcased its safety and security, as well as technology, in its case before the IOC. "There's no doubt that, compared with the bid for 2016, the big difference is the support from the citizens of Tokyo," Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso noted. Tokyo is running for the second time while Madrid is on its third consecutive bid.

The IOC previously released an evaluation on the three cities to provide members with unbiased facts. Tokyo was widely regarded to have the best showing in the report.

The winner will be selected at an IOC meeting on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, where the committee's 100 members will vote by secret ballot for the IOC's new president on Sept. 10.

Turkey may have seriously thought it had the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in the bag, but the recent meeting showed strong competitors. What happens in Turkey between now and September will be of great importance. Anything could tip the balance at this point.

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