Does the AKP really want the Olympics?

Does the AKP really want the Olympics?

No one can accuse our EU minister Egemen Bağış of lacking political foresight. He has already capitalized on the possibility that Istanbul may not be awarded the 2020 Olympics, even if it remains a leading favorite according to the recent “iSportconnect 2020 Olympic Games” poll (

Bağış believes that if Istanbul does not get the Olympics it will be the fault of the Gezi Park demonstrators. He said so while addressing a crowd gathered to follow traditional Turkish oil wrestling on Sunday in Istanbul’s Sancaktepe district. Should Turkey’s bid fail, the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) narrative against its political rivals and critics is therefore ready.

No doubt this narrative will be embellished with accusations against just about everyone and everything, in addition to the Gezi Park demonstrators. Specters from the “interest rate lobby” to Israel, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now believes is behind the coup in Egypt, will be raised.

The fact that Erdogan is headed to Buenos Aires for the OIC’s Sept. 7 announcement shows how seriously his government is taking this bid. While Bağış has given us an intimation of the government’s narrative if the bid fails, one does not need much imagination to see the triumphalism that will color Erdoğan’s narrative should it succeed.

Disregarding the thousands of people in Turkey from different walks of life, and including scores who are not AKP supporters, it will all be about how “We (meaning the APK) did it while others failed.” Put another way, it will again be the AKP’s victory and not Turkey’s. This is all highly predictable, but one can not help wonder if Erdoğan will really be pleased in the end if Istanbul gets the Olympics.

The Olympics can, after all, make or break a country. While Britain is on the positive side of this scale, Greece provides an example of how a country can overreach by bidding for the games. But there is another example which is probably more relevant to Turkey, and that is China.

We saw with the Beijing Olympics how the OIC can award a country that has no democracy or human rights to speak of with the Olympics. But we also saw with China how a country that has been awarded the games automatically comes under intense international political scrutiny. China may have brushed this scrutiny aside but it still received an immense amount of bad political, social and economic publicity.

The focus of international attention is on Turkey today for a host of reasons that anger Erdoğan and the AKP. These stretch from the fact that it is the country with the largest amount of journalists in jail to the police brutality that is still perpetrated against peaceful demonstrators. Put another way, there are scores of issues to do with democracy and human rights that will keep the international media’s focus on Turkey.

It is obvious that the Western media, so despised by Erdoğan and his advisers after the Gezi demonstrations, will intensify this focuses if Istanbul gets the Olympics. Meanwhile, tensions in Turkey will be heightened due to the fact that we are entering a phase of intense electioneering with local, presidential and general elections on the way. This period will be marked by much acrimony and political as well as social conflict, putting the country in the worst of lights internationally.

Rather than pre-emptively try and capitalize on the negative, would it not be better for Bağış to see all this and wisely steer his government towards the positive in terms of more democracy and human rights in Turkey? If he were to succeed Turkey would project a positive image to the world, in the lead-up to the Olympics, based on tangible facts, rather than an artificially inflated image based on assumptions that not everyone in Turkey or the international community has sufficient imagination to believe.