Istanbul, which failed in four previous attempts to stage the Olympics, is counting on its fast-growing economy and young population to land the 2020 Games.
The city, which bid to host the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics, is competing with Madrid and Tokyo to organize the world’s biggest sports event. The International Olympic Committee will select the host city in Buenos Aires in September.
“This time, it’s totally different,” Hasan Arat, the chairman of the Istanbul 2020 campaign, said in an interview in London yesterday. “This fifth bid is a new bid for a new Turkey.”
While the country struggled with “triple-digit” inflation a decade ago, Arat said, that’s improved to 7.3 percent last month.
“We are the fastest-growing economy in Europe,” he added. “Between 2002 and 2011, we had annual economic growth of 5.2 percent. And we are forecast to be inside the top 10 of the world’s biggest economies by 2023 measured by gross domestic product. The time is right for Turkey, and for Istanbul,” said Arat. He’s also chairman of Capital Partners, a real estate developer operating in Turkey, Kazakhstan and Russia.
Turkey hosted the Champions League soccer title match in 2005 and two years ago added the season-ending women’s tennis tour finals. It invested in new stadiums and infrastructure in an attempt to land the Olympic Games.
The 2020 bid has the support of 94 percent of the city’s population, half of whom are under the age of 25, Arat said.
“We are focusing on our legacy for our young generation,” Arat said. “It would be a historic moment for the Olympic movement. This region has never had an Olympics before, it’s a new market in a very young part of the world.”
Since 1994, Istanbul has built 14 Olympic venues, including the 75,000-seat Istanbul Ataturk Olympic Stadium and the multipurpose Sinan Erdem Dome, site of tennis’s WTA Championships and the 2010 World Basketball Championships.
Istanbul’s total investment — including government infrastructure projects — will be $19.2 billion and would generate 200,000 jobs, Arat said.
Tokyo has earmarked $4.5 billion for building projects, while Madrid has pledged $1.9 billion.
Last month, seven of Turkey’s biggest companies said they’d sponsor the 2020 bid in a deal worth $20 million in total.
Arat didn’t think its proximity to Syria and two bomb attacks earlier this month would discourage IOC members from voting for Istanbul.
A Feb. 11 car-bomb attack near the border with Syria killed 14 people and heightened concern that the civil war there may spill over the border. On Feb. 1, a suicide bomber detonated explosives just inside a back-gate checkpoint at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, killing a Turkish security guard and the bomber.
Turkey has supported the Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, who has accused the country of providing them with military support. NATO missile-defense batteries have been deployed at Turkey’s request to reinforce security at its Syrian border.
“This is a global issue for the world, it’s not just Istanbul’s or Turkey’s problem,” Arat said. “Everywhere in the world, countries and security forces have to fight with these issues. Turkey is doing its best to help the Syrian people. All governments have to work together to find a solution for those problems. I am confident that our government is working very hard on this.”