Turkey’s Sports Minister Suat Kilic speaks during an interview in Ankara on August 28, 2013. Istanbul aims to become the first Muslim country to stage the Olympics. Kilic remains upbeat about Istanbul’s ability to beat off the challenge from Tokyo and Madrid in hosting the 2020 Games.
ISTANBUL: Along the picturesque Bosphorus Straits dividing Europe and Asia, Istanbul is undergoing a transformation which should fill Turkey with confidence in its bid to become the first Muslim country to stage the Olympics in 2020.
Overlooking the waterway, mechanical diggers are tearing down Besiktas’ Inonu Stadium to make way for a state-of-the-art facility earmarked to stage rugby in 2020, and to the north construction of the city’s third suspension bridge is underway.
To the south, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to open in October a rail tunnel beneath the straits to keep up with the transportation needs of a fast-growing city of 14 million people. A huge third Istanbul airport is also planned.
But when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes on September 7, the impressive development, Turkey’s growing economic clout and the experience of a fifth Olympic bid in the last six elections could be undermined by a series of blows which have rained down on the Istanbul bid in recent months.
Anti-government protests have rocked Turkey, doping bans have been slapped on dozens of its athletes and turmoil in the Middle East is deepening with the prospect of US-led military intervention against neighbouring Syria.
Sports Minister Suat Kilic remains upbeat about Istanbul’s ability to beat off the challenge from Tokyo and Madrid, pointing to strong government support and the passion of the country’s youth for the bid. “With the enthusiasm of the Turkish youth and the dreams of our sportsmen and women, a voice inside me says it will happen this time,” Kilic said.
“The prime minister has dreamed of making Istanbul an Olympic city since the time he was the Istanbul mayor.”
Erdogan, who plans to attend the IOC ceremony in Buenos Aires, has presided over a period of unprecedented prosperity during his decade in power and a vote in Istanbul’s favour would give him a boost ahead of an election cycle beginning next year. The IOC report on Istanbul praised the government backing, wide public support and its capability to deliver construction for the Games on time with a massive projected infrastructure budget of $19.2 billion, including building legacy projects.
However, the report was drafted before protests against Erdogan’s government which erupted in June after police used teargas and water cannon against campaigners opposed to plans to redevelop Istanbul’s central Gezi Park.Reuters