Istanbul makes it to final in Olympic race

Istanbul makes it to final in Olympic race

QUEBEC - Agence France-Presse/Reuters
Istanbul makes it to final in Olympic race

Basketball player Hidayet ‘Hedo’ Türkoğlu (L) and volleyball star Neslihan Darnel pose after Istanbul was officially announced as a candidade city for the 2020 Games. AA photo

Istanbul revels in making it the first cut along with Madrid and Tokyo in the race to host the 2020 Olympics, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Baku and Doha were dropped from the running.

The IOC will decide which city will host the 2020 Olympics in a final vote on September 7, 2013 in Buenos Aires. That gives the remaining hopefuls more than 15 months to make final impressions upon the IOC to boost their candidacy.

The IOC decision was a landmark sign of progress for serial bidder Turkey, which was shortlisted after failing to win the right to host the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games.

“This is a historic moment,” said Istanbul team member Hasan Arat.

 Istanbul’s pitch has not fundamentally changed since last time, but the bid team ironed out deficiencies in the original proposals.

“This time, Istanbul is ready to deliver,” Arat said in a statement.

Turkey is also running for hosting of the 2020 European Football Championships, but the IOC is not sympathetic to the idea of an Olympic host nation holding another major sporting event in the country in the same year as the Olympics.

 “We are here for the Olympics today, this is our priority,” said Arat, dismissing questions about Turkey’s pursuit of the Euro 2020.

“There will be one Games, one city, two continents - Istanbul offers a lot of things,” Arat said while crying tears of joy as he delivered the good news to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül.

Turkish officials repeatedly claimed that Turkey has the strongest bid, and Tokyo 2020 officials admitted that Istanbul will pose the biggest challenge to them.

“I think Istanbul is our biggest rival as it stakes its case as becoming the first Islamic country to host the Olympics,” said Tomiaki Fukuda, vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee.

Fukuda, also a senior executive of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid committee, added: “Istanbul has another strong appeal as a connecting point between Asia and Europe.” But the Japanese official said Tokyo could capitalize on a possible split of votes from European IOC members between Istanbul and Madrid.

“I think this will leave us in a better position. I feel it has become easier for us to muster support from Asia,” he said, adding that Tokyo would also court IOC members from the Americas and Africa where there is no candidate city.

Ordinarily Madrid would be seen as running close with Tokyo but the specter of Spain’s dire financial crisis hangs over the bid.

To further trim the field, IOC officials will look mainly at the cities’ ability to host a major sporting event, ranking their transportation capabilities and examining other infrastructure challenges they may face.