Turkish gov’t, opposition at odds over Olympics

Turkish gov’t, opposition at odds over Olympics

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish gov’t, opposition at odds over Olympics

Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış shakes hands with the wrestlers at Sancaktepe’s annual wresling event. AA Photo

One of the government’s most opinionated figures, EU Minister Egemen Bağış, has again raised eyebrows while attending a wrestling event in Istanbul’s Sancaktepe, arguing that Gezi protesters would be responsible if the country lost the race to host the 2020 Olympics.

The remark brought a quick retort from the opposition benches, with Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Emine Ülke Tarhan quickly accusing Bağış of “attempting to camouflage a possible failure.”

Istanbul’s running against Tokyo and Madrid in race for hosting the 2020 Games. The winner of the bid will be decided on Sept. 7, in the International Olympic Committee meeting, set to take place in Buenos Aires. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will also be attending the final session.

Tarhan called on the government to stop playing the victim, and to look at the harsh treatment of Gezi protesters as a potential reason that Istanbul will lose the race.

Bağış’s remarks, which accused the protesters of “applying twice to drop Istanbul’s candidacy,” caused a stir hours later the minister voiced them at an annual wrestling tournament on Aug. 18, a branch of Turkish sports that has recently been riddled with doping claims.

Tarhan said the statement aimed to “camouflage a possible failure,” while accusing the government of playing the victim.

“Those who caused a scene at Taksim’s Gezi Park applied twice to drop Istanbul’s candidacy, and requested Istanbul to be dropped off the candidates list. Thank God they couldn’t succeed. If Istanbul loses, it will be because of them,” Bağış said. Bağış called hosting the Olympics Istanbul’s “only missing title,” saying the time has arrived for a Muslim country to take on the challenge, voicing optimism for the upcoming September decision.

“The fact that Istanbul hasn’t yet hosted the Olympics is not a deficiency on Istanbul’s behalf, but one on the Olympics’. It is time for the Olympics, which have never been hosted in a country with a Muslim majority, to be hosted in the city that spans two continents,” the minister said.

The minister further likened the government officials to the wrestlers of the event, saying they were “conducting politics without any doping substances, much like [the wrestlers] who are fighting without doping drugs.”

Tough ride

The country’s path to the Olympics has been a bumpy ride, with consecutive doping scandals breaking out back to back in the past few months, including the most recent one that hit wrestling, the traditional Turkish sport. Champion Ali Gürbüz and another 16 oil wrestlers who recently won in different categories of Turkey’s longest-running sports event, the Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling competition, have tested positive in doping tests. Kırkpınar is known as the most significant wrestling competition in the country, dating back to the Ottoman times.

Just in the early days of August, the Turkish Athletics Federation’s (TAF) Disciplinary Board banned 31 Turkish athletes including Olympic medalist Eşref Apak, from competitions for two years, a month after announcing they were tested positive for banned substances.

The world athletics’ governing body (IAAF) has previously called on the country to step up its efforts against doping.