Istanbul can host the greatest show on earth

Istanbul can host the greatest show on earth

The competition to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games is heating up. While the ‘Host City elections’ of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can be very unpredictable, Istanbul should have an excellent chance of winning when the final decision is made in September. It has the vision, the enthusiasm and the political support that is needed to host the Games.

This is not to say that it will be easy to persuade members of the IOC about the merits of Turkey’s candidature, especially in the face of such strong competition as Tokyo and Madrid. The city also faces technical challenges. But it is remarkable how two of the main issues that London’s 2012 Olympic bid overcame – transportation and security – are exactly the same ones that Istanbul must now address. What lessons might it take from London as it seeks to host the 2020 Games?

Firstly, the importance of developing an innovative, city-wide Olympic transportation strategy should be fully appreciated. When it bid for the 2012 Olympics, London had to convince the IOC that the more antiquated parts of its transportation infrastructure would keep moving during the Games. To address this, for example, the city promised to build a new ‘Olympic javelin’ rail line that would be able to transport thousands of spectators between central London and the main venues in the east of the city. In line with IOC requirements, organizers also committed themselves to introducing dedicated “Olympic lanes” on the roads which would allow the vehicles of athletes and officials to move freely between venues. Although these and other such measures were not all initially popular, they undeniably helped to ensure that the city’s transport network operated effectively last summer. It is very encouraging that Istanbul’s 2020 bid team has already indicated that it would draw upon new infrastructure and “activate the Bosphorus” as part of a multi-pronged strategy to relieve congestion if it wins the right to host the Olympics.

A second key lesson is the importance of implementing a fully coordinated and appropriately-funded Olympic security plan. The British authorities did exactly this as they sought to deliver on their promise of “safe and secure” 2012 Games. Like Turkey, the U.K. has long since wrestled with a serious problem of terrorism but this did not mean that London was not well-suited to hosting the Games. The important thing for any bidding city is that its host government commits to deploying, coordinating and (where necessary) funding all of the “stakeholders” that will be needed to deliver appropriate security: the military, the police, the intelligence agencies and the private sector.

Istanbul’s 2020 Olympic bid has a huge amount in its favor. Its “application file” already illustrates a well-developed technical plan and, more importantly, it demonstrates a clear and positive vision. Turkey’s young population would undoubtedly bring enthusiasm to the Games as it already possesses a passion for many Olympic sports, including basketball, football and volleyball. The city famously straddles “east” and “west” and is among the world’s most popular places to visit. Notwithstanding the need to overcome a number of technical challenges, Istanbul really can host the greatest show on earth. Now it must persuade the world that it believes it.

Hugo Rosemont is an independent security analyst who was previously a member of London 2012’s Olympic bid team. He blogs on security issues at