Despite problematic issues like the recent Gezi Park protests, the positive doping results of some Turkish athletes and the ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria, the Turkish Olympic bid team believes wholeheartedly that they will outcompete Tokyo and Madrid, the two other candidate cities to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.“We are impatient to get to the stage for our last presentation in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). We really believe it’s now Turkey’s turn to shine like a diamond,” Arat told Today’s Zaman.
After a carnival of last-minute campaigning, backstage vote-chasing, and continuous lobbying efforts, all three cities will finally make their final presentations to the IOC in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7 to garner the most votes in order to win the bid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Prime ministers of the bidding countries — Shinzo Abe of Japan, Mariano Rajoy of Spain and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey — will be leading their national bidding teams in Buenos Aires, the 2016 Olympic host city, on voting day.
İstanbul, with a youth population at 5 out of 15 million, is competing for the games against Madrid and Tokyo. Tokyo seems like the odds-on favorite so far, with safety guaranties and technological means that the city can provide for the games. On the other hand, while Madrid is playing its cards on the sports facilities and venues that the city already has, İstanbul wants to bring the games to a place where Asia and Europe meet. Putting emphasis on İstanbul’s unique multicultural nature, “No other city than İstanbul around the world can be more fitting to the spirit of the Olympic Games, as it is a unique place where cultures, religions and even continents embrace each other and have been doing so for thousands of years,” Arat said.
The Turkish bidding leader is not worried about the doping scandals that have rocked Turkish athletics or the neighboring Syrian turmoil. He believes that the discovery of the 30 Turkish athletes in various fields who tested positive for drugs shows how serious Turkey is in respect to eliminating doping. “First of all, we want all of our national athletes to be clean. We have zero tolerance for doping. I am sorry but … no pain, no gain,” Arat said. Concerning Syria, Arat believes that Turkey has showed another example of its Olympic spirit by welcoming more than half a million Syrian refugees into the southeastern outskirts of Turkey and spending almost $1 billion on shelter, food, health and education for them.
Able to build high-quality venues in a short period of time, Turkey did so and hosted the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in seven cities and staged the Olympic-like Mediterranean Games in the city of Mersin in June and July this year.
A series of massive projects are also ongoing in İstanbul according to the 2023 Vision that the Turkish government has set for the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic. The plan includes the construction of a third bridge crossing the Bosporus, an already-completed underwater rail tunnel linking the European and Asian sides of the city and the expansion of the metro and light rail systems. The country is also constructing a third airport for the city that will have six runways, to be built by 2016.
İstanbul, once favored by the authorities for the 2020 Olympic Games, was hit hard by images of Turkish police using excessive force on anti-government protesters. Indicating that the Turkish bid team has been updating the IOC objectively about all the events that have taken place in Turkey since the protests first began in May, Arat said: “I believe they were all peaceful and friendly demonstrations that any democratic country might have faced. The important point is that the IOC members are aware of Turkey’s willingness to host the Olympic Games as 94 percent of the Turkish population supports the city hosting the games.” According to a poll conducted by the IOC earlier this year, İstanbul previously had the support of 83 percent of its residents, while the support from residents of Tokyo and Madrid was 70 and 76 percent, respectively.
Since the last week of August, the 200 members of the Turkish Olympic bid team have been in Buenos Aires and working to prepare for the final presentation. They say the atmosphere has never been so positive and hopeful for bringing the games to İstanbul since the city first made its attempts toward the same goal in the 1990s. This is İstanbul’s fifth attempt in the last six votes to become the host city of the Olympic Games.
With a magnificent view of the Europe side of the city across the Bosporus and a 70,000-seat capacity, İstanbul is planning to hold the opening and closing ceremonies at the Bosporus Stadium, which will built on the Anatolian side of İstanbul by 2019.
Mentioning that the competition for the Olympic and Paralympic Games has never been so head-to-head in its final phase, Arat said: “I feel like me and my team are in the Olympic finals. We did our best so far, and we are ready to play to the last second. We are in it to win it.”