Istanbul Olympic bid organizers say protests won't affect preparations
The anti-government protests in Turkey "will have no bearing" on Istanbul's ability to host the 2020 Olympics, the bid committee said Wednesday.
The Olympic bid has been rattled by the nearly two weeks of protests that began in Istanbul and spread to dozens of other cities. It's the biggest test yet in the 10-year rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Istanbul, making its fifth bid for the Olympics, is competing against Madrid and Tokyo. The IOC will select the host city on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The pictures and television images of the violence in Istanbul's Taksim Square — including riot police firing tear gas and water cannon at protesters — have tarnished Turkey's image abroad and raised serious challenges for the Olympic bid.
The bid committee issued a statement Wednesday insisting that the feedback from IOC members and other Olympic officials has been positive and understanding.
"While they are obviously as keen as we are for a swift and peaceful resolution, the majority of people we have spoken to recognize that 2020 is still seven years away," the statement said.
The committee also sought to dispel doubts that Istanbul, if awarded the games, would be able to carry out all the necessary construction work in the face of possible protests.
"This situation will have no bearing on our ability to deliver our games concept," the statement said, adding that the project was designed in consultation with environmental groups and non-governmental organizations.
"That consultation process will continue in partnership with the national and municipal authorities throughout the construction program," it said.
The committee said the bid has the backing of the Turkish public, citing the most recent IOC survey — conducted months before the unrest — showing 83 per cent support in Istanbul.
"This is a bid for the people of Turkey and we are united by our passion to bring the games here for the first time," the statement said. "Istanbul 2020, and the 20-year dream of the Turkish people, will not be affected by these events."
Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo will make bid presentations this weekend to the Association of National Olympic Committees in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Istanbul bid group said it would "provide assurances" to the assembly.
Egemen Bagis, the Turkish minister in charge of relations with the European Union, said large cities all over the world can experience protests.
"No one should use these protests — that show the strength of the civil society dynamics in Turkey — against Turkey," he said at a sports business convention in Istanbul on Tuesday night. "We love all our citizens. We embrace them and will continue to do so.
"This nation, this government, when it sets an ideal, it accomplishes it as long as it believes in itself. The Turkish nation believes that it can stage the 2020 Olympics. We always accomplish what we believe in."
Turkey is also preparing to host the Olympic-style Mediterranean Games and football's Under-20 World Cup.
"The current situation has in no way detracted from Turkey's ability to deliver world-class sports events," the Istanbul statement said.
The Mediterranean Games are scheduled for June 20-30 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Mersin, with thousands of athletes from two dozen countries expected to take part.
The 24-nation football tournament starts June 21 and will be played in seven cities in Turkey. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Wednesday the tournament would go ahead as scheduled.
Blatter said FIFA was in contact with Turkish "political authorities, especially with the security." He added that "the guarantees have been given and I am sure that nothing will happen."