Protests no hindrance to Olympic bid chances, say Istanbul officials

Turks make final presentation to host the 2020 games

People shout anti-government slogans as they gather for a demonstration at Taksim Square in Istanbul last weekend. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

Istanbul makes its final presentation to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games today as widespread opposition to Turkey’s government threatens the city’s bid.

Turkey’s National Olympic Committee will present Istanbul’s case to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, along with Tokyo and Madrid, the two remaining candidate cities.

Before the protests, Istanbul was deemed a close second-favourite to win behind Tokyo and ahead of Madrid. But the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) reaction to countrywide protests has undermined, at least in the short term, Turkey’s perceived stability.

Several riot police and protesters, including 26-year-old Ethem Sarisuluk who was shot in the head during a protest in Ankara, have died in the month-long unrest. On June 15th hundreds of demonstrators were forced from Gezi Park in central Istanbul by riot police using tear gas and water cannons.


Modern destination
Turkey's bid to host the Olympic Games is the centrepiece of a broader government drive to position the country as a modern international destination.

Later this year the world’s first cross-continental subway system is to open in Istanbul while plans to build the world’s largest airport north of the city are under way.

The AKP has been criticised by many Turks for putting infrastructural development before cultural and environmental concerns, and also for its perceived interference in public life by recently restricting the sale of alcohol and contraception.

However, figures involved in the Istanbul bid and the IOC hierarchy believe the protests – which continue in dozens of city parks in Istanbul and Ankara – won’t upset Istanbul’s chances.

'No threat'
Last week Istanbul 2020 Bid chairman Hasan Arat said protests posed no threat to Istanbul's case, stating he was "proud" of Turkey's youth for "standing up for their beliefs".

In an email, he told The Irish Times that IOC officials asked about the effects of the protests but said the unrest would not damage Istanbul's bid.

“What is most important is that the people of Istanbul and Turkey believe in the games. The latest IOC poll put public support in Istanbul at 83 per cent – very few bid cities have ever had that kind of backing.”

At the outset of demonstrations early last month, IOC president Jacques Rogge said protests would not affect Istanbul's bid.

“Similar protests have been experienced in other cities before. There are seven years before the 2020 games. We need to take the time factor into consideration,” he told Turkish television.