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OTHERS > Istanbul’s Olympic bid to help EU process: EU Minister

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EU Minister Egemen Bağış says Istanbul's Olympic bid may be used as a tool to fight 'EU prejudice,' while former London Mayor Ken Livingstone says Istanbul deserves to host the Games

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Egemen Bağış adresses the International Sports Summit in Istanbul, held to support the city’s 2020 bid. Istanbul is competing
against Madrid and Tokyo to become the first city from a majority Muslim country to host the Olympic Games. HÜRRİYET photo, Semih BAHADIR

Egemen Bağış adresses the International Sports Summit in Istanbul, held to support the city’s 2020 bid. Istanbul is competing against Madrid and Tokyo to become the first city from a majority Muslim country to host the Olympic Games. HÜRRİYET photo, Semih BAHADIR

Özgür Korkmaz Özgür Korkmaz ozgur.korkmaz@hurriyet.com.tr

Istanbul’s candidacy to host the 2020 Olympic Games will also help remove obstacles hindering Turkey’s aspirations to become a European Union member state, according to the country’s chief negotiator with the bloc.

“Our bid to host the Olympics will help us eliminate the biggest obstacle in our bid to becoming a member of the European Union: prejudice,” EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış told a group of journalists March 1 at a luncheon on the sidelines of the International Sports Summit in Istanbul.

People who visit Turkey as tourists leave the country as friends of Turkey and supporters of the country’s EU membership bid, Bağış said.

“The Olympic bidding process will be an opportunity to host many people in Turkey and also an opportunity to tell about ourselves to those who cannot come through international campaigns. That’s why I consider [Sports Minister] Suat Kılıç as a natural member of the negotiating team, while I also consider myself a member of Turkey’s Olympic bid team,” he said.

Rumors of bias

Bağış said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members will also have a chance to put an end to rumors that the Games are biased “against a belief group.”

Istanbul is competing against Madrid and Tokyo to become the first city from a majority Muslim country to host the Olympic Games. The IOC will vote for the host city in September.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who held the post while the city was bidding to host the 2012 Olympics, also lent his support to Istanbul’s Olympic bid.

“The world is changing, and the Olympics should reflect this change,” Livingstone said at the luncheon, adding that the Games should no longer focus just on Europe and North America.

“Istanbul would not have been suitable to host the Games 20 years ago, but each time I visit here, things change. Turkey is really ready to host the Games,” Livingstone said. “If I was a member of the committee, then I would use my vote for Istanbul.”

Boris Johnson, London’s current mayor, has also voiced his support for Istanbul’s bid and Turkey at a recent meeting in the U.K., Bağış said, while asking Livingstone to back Istanbul’s bid together with his successor.

“There are a lot of things I and Boris cannot agree on,” Livingstone said in reply. “But we agree on two things, supporting Istanbul’s Olympic bid and Turkey’s EU bid.”

The former London mayor noted that the bidding process required tough work, and with a small group of people deciding on the issue, lobbying efforts are crucial.“A few votes can switch at the last second, and that is what it takes to lose the vote despite a very strong candidacy,” Livingstone said.

Bağış said Turkey had had its share of experience in competing to host major international events and that work was in progress within the tough rules of Olympic bidding.

“Istanbul has had many roles in history; it was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the European Capital of Culture and the [European Capital of Sport],” the EU minister said. “The only role it lacks is being an Olympic city, and I hope that it will have it by 2020.”

March/02/2013

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