Turkey must host Olympics in the name of 'sport culture'
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
‘I do not believe it is right to enter this type of competition with Madrid and Tokyo about who deserves it most,’ writer Bağış Erten tells Hürriyet Daily News. DAILY NEWS photo / Emrah Gürel
Istanbul faces tough competition against Madrid and Tokyo to host the 2020 Olympics, but sports commentator Bağış Erten points at Turkey’s advantages, like geographic location, young population and “its hunger for the Olympic spirit.” He has said Turkey is able to deliver the physical infrastructure for a large international event but needs to focus on the social aspects of the project as well as its construction side. “Somehow you can handle the ‘how’ part. You need to explain the ‘why’ part well.”
How do you see the chances for Istanbul to host 2020 Olympic Games following the visits of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to the three competing cities?
It will be a hard competition. Turkey’s advantage is that it is competing against two countries that have already organized Olympics. The second advantage is its geographic location, as there is a preference for the games to travel through different geographies. After London, it will be Rio so the question would be, should it go to Asia? But in general there is also a preference not to go too far away from Europe. Turkey is between Europe and Asia; the classic Turkey being at the “crossroads” factor will be an advantage.
If we look to Olympic Games as part of creating a sports culture rather than as part of a sport business; then Turkey also has an important advantage: Turkey does not have an “Olympic spirit.” But precisely if the Olympic Games are about creating that spirit, then granting them to Turkey will then provide the country with the opportunity to create that spirit. Different types of sports find it hard in Turkey to strive; but the Olympic Games might be an opportunity to open the way for other sports to develop.
The lack of Olympic spirit could also be a reason not to give Olympic Games to Turkey.
Correct. But I do not believe it is right to enter this type of competition with Madrid and Tokyo about who deserves it most. If we enter that kind of race, Madrid for instance will get ahead since it has a much better sports culture and much better sport infrastructure. Then the only reason for Madrid not to have the Olympic Games would be the economic crisis.
Turkey on the other hand should emphasize its hunger for Olympic spirit and the dynamism of its young population. Both Spain and Japan have very serious established sports cultures; what will change after the Olympics, not much. That’s why I don’t think their case is that convincing.
As far as Turkey is concerned, saying that Istanbul is ready to host the Olympic Games means exaggerating Istanbul’s sport culture and its sport dynamics. Compared to others we are not ready as far as sports spirit is concerned; but precisely because of that Turkey should get it; because that will serve the purpose of acquiring that spirit.
But do you think Turkey is ready, in terms of physical infrastructure and capability, to organize such a big event?
The physical dimension is the easiest thing that Turkey can handle. It is the easiest promise Turkey can deliver. We are one of the most prominent countries in the construction sector, a sector which has proved itself all over the world. There is no possibility of any delay about constructing the sports facilities in time. 80 percent of sports facilities are completed in Madrid. But the possibility of Spain constructing the remaining 20 percent is lower than Turkey completing the 100 percent starting from scratch. As for traffic, anyone in this city knows that when authorities want to, they can have the traffic eased in the city.
So you see no problem about the physical infrastructure. But there are other criteria of course.
This is the first dimension. The second dimension is about having elite athletes that will get Olympic medals. Turkey does not have so many legendary figures when it comes to Olympic Games; but even that can be handled, once the right steps are taken. But I am more interested in the third dimension because that is the one that determines whether hosting the Olympic Games leads to dead investment, idle infrastructure and a serious economic burden. If you don’t create a spirit of sport, small and big communities that are fans of all different types of sports and make these facilities sustainable, then the Olympics become a serious blow to the economy.
In short, you can either become like Barcelona or Athens. These two mean two different worlds.
Despite all the economic burdens, Barcelona has created a sport culture, a city culture; it has become one of the most visited cities in the world; the city’s relationship to sports was transformed. In 2008, Spain reached the peak of sports as it became the European champion in men’s football, volleyball, handball and basketball; it also became number one in tennis and in motor sports. An unbelievable explosion. Athens, in contrast, organized Olympic Games that became one of the major reasons for the current economic crisis. Neither the city has changed afterwards, nor have Greek sports made a breakthrough.
There is also a choice between London and Beijing. In the latter, there was gigantism; spectacular ceremonies, everything based on flamboyance, a show of grandeur. Are you going to make gigantic facilities which later became huge dumps, or parking lots with extraordinary budgets, or will you organize Olympic Games like London, with a much smaller budget, but with a philosophy that turns everything later into a contribution to sport culture. I have my concerns about this point.
What are your concerns?
In all presentations, the rhetoric is based on “we deserve it.” I think this is very problematic. We have to say “we need it.” Of course we should use arguments like Turkey will be the first Muslim country to ever host the Olympic games, but we need to be creative in what we promise. We should not be arrogant because as far as sports are concerned we cannot be arrogant.
I am concerned that the Olympic Games are being perceived in Turkey just as a construction matter. As Terrence Burns has explained, the important question is not “how” but “why.” Somehow you can handle the “how” part. You need to explain the “why” part well. Those with a 100 percent “how” approach but only 50 percent focus on “why” cannot get the Olympic Games.
What you are saying is that we still need to be convinced that for Turkish organizers the Olympic Games are not just limited to constructing infrastructure.
The proof is not there yet. You need to make this a social project. They did say we are going to make Istanbul a city that will do sports. This is a good promise. The facilities will be open to the people; they will not become parking lots. But we know that in Istanbul there are currently sports facilities that are not being efficiently used. It is not about constructing the facilities; it is about creating that awareness, that conscience. This needs to have a pedagogical dimension, media dimension, but in a country where there are efforts to make sports an elective course in schools, you can’t talk about a sports culture. There is a difference between saying we will handle the traffic during the Olympic games or saying the traffic in Istanbul will be handled in such a way that it will become a city where people would be able to walk, where there will be lanes for bicycles. As of today we maintain the fear of becoming like Athens or Beijing but we still also have the hope of becoming Barcelona and London.
Who is Bağış Erten?
Born in 1973 in Ankara, Bağış Erten graduated from Istanbul University’s Law Faculty in 1988. He did his postgraduate degree in Boğaziçi University’s near history department.
After working as an editor at İletişim Yayınları, a prominent publishing house, he started his career as a sports commentator in 2003.
Currently he co-hosts a sports program on private television channel NTV. He has been writing about sports for the past 11 years. His is a columnist for daily Radikal and a magazine called “Tam Saha.”
He is also the editor-in-chief of Eurosport Turkey and the coordinator of the sports communication program at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.