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Olympics

The choice of Tokyo instead of Istanbul to host the 2020 Olympic Games was unfair and meant the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was turning its back on the Muslim world, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Monday.

Tokyo beat Istanbul by 60 votes to 36 in a head-to-head vote by IOC members in Buenos Aires on Saturday, giving the Japanese capital the Games for the second time. Madrid had been eliminated in a first round of voting.

“Both Tokyo and Madrid have hosted the games before; Istanbul hasn’t. It hasn’t been fair,” Erdogan was quoted as saying in Turkish media. “In a way, they are cutting ties with the 1.5-billion-people Muslim world.”

Civil unrest, the unstable political situation on the country’s doorstep and a wave of high-profile athletics doping cases are seen as the chief culprits for the IOC’s decision to overlook Turkey, which has a predominantly Muslim population, again after Istanbul failed in bids to land the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games.

While the unrest in neighbouring Syria was seen by some as counting against the bid, others felt a heavy-handed police crackdown during recent anti-government protests also damaged Turkey’s image.

Tokyo, which hosted the 1964 Games, had an estimated non-Games budget of around $4.4 billion for 2020 plus $3.4 billion for the actual event.

Istanbul’s proposal had a total cost of $19 billion, making it more ambitious but also risky given the country’s lack of experience in staging major sports events.

Another worry for Istanbul has been the wave of doping cases which have resulted in the Turkish Athletics Federation banning dozens of athletes for drugs violations, most recently double European 100m hurdles champion Nevin Yanit.

Turkey’s Sports Minister Suat Kilic said doping was not an issue peculiar to Turkey while Erdogan said the country was taking steps to fight it.

“We have said ‘zero tolerance against doping’ and have started our work,” Erdogan said.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) can take an historic decision by electing Istanbul to host the 2020 Olympic Games when they vote in Buenos Aires on September 7, the bid president Hasan Arat told AFP.

Arat, a former professional basketball player turned businessman, said the 100+ members of the IOC would be giving “hope, trust and peace to a region” should Istanbul win.

Istanbul are up against Madrid, bidding for the third successive time having finished third and then second for the 2012 and 2016 Games respectively, and Tokyo, the only one to host the Games previously in 1964 but finished third behind Rio de Janeiro and Madrid in the 2016 race.

Arat, who has led the bid with energy, unbridled passion and enthusiasm making it the most effective of the five bids by the Turkish city, said that hosting the Games would offer hope to the youth of the region and give them the right sort of role models.

It’s been suggested sport would present an alternative and inspiration to the youth of the region who it is often feared seek solace in either a sedentary existence, playing computer games or watching television, or become increasingly isolated sometimes drifting towards radicalisation.

However, Arat believes the Olympics – which would be the first to be hosted by a predominantly Muslim country – could prove to be a turning point in the region’s history and also bring more understanding of different cultures.

“The Olympic Movement can open the door to a new culture,” said Arat, who is engaged on a helter skelter tour of Europe ahead of the vote.

“It can bridge Olympic culture to new culture. A new bridge to historical impact, with 8000 years of history the Olympic Movement is not just giving the Olympic Games to a city – they (the IOC) would be giving hope, trust and peace to a region.”

Arat, who was The Economist magazine’s businessman of the year in 1996, said the future of the youth of the region could be changed forever by a vote for Istanbul.

“This bid is the future of our country; the future of our young people,” said Arat, who is a married father of two.

“It is very important for my country and for the region (the Middle East, the Gulf and Central Asia). The region will be affected, as 50 percent of people are under 25 years of age.

“In the region, look at our neighbours: 400 million in the age group! Now this Games is so important for their future and lives, creating role models. “The Olympic Movement can create history now. In this region there has never been an Olympic Games before.”

Arat was also adamant the Turkish Government was fully involved in the fight against doping which has taken on extra significance with a swathe of high profile Turkish athletes – including last year’s women’s 1500 metres Olympic champion Asli Cakir Alptekin – being exposed as drugs cheats.

International Association of Athletics Federations president Lamine Diack said on Monday that the Government had to get their house in order otherwise the Istanbul bid could be affected.

“I respect his (Diack) opinion, but I would say that Turkey is fighting very strongly against doping. We are working with the government,” said Arat.

“There is a zero tolerance policy towards it being led by our IOC member Ugur Erdemer, who is working very hard. The tests themselves are working which means people can’t hide and we are cleaning up the sports. Yes it happened (the doping) but it has to stop.

“There are two strands to the battle, testing and then the education of coaches and the athletes family. We are also establishing a special education programme.”

Just as was the case following inspections of the city’s bid rivals Tokyo and Madrid, the IOC’s evaluation committee president Sir Craig Reedie spoke of the candidature in glowing terms, as the exercise’s diplomacy requires.

“This has been extremely well organised and we have an excellent impression of the skills and enthusiasm of the bid committee,” said Reedie.

“Excellent impression in my words is exactly the same as hugely impressed or greatly impressed,” he clarified, referring to previous compliments given to the other cities.

“We have seen the enthusiasm for the Games that exists here in Istanbul.”

Reedie also pointed to the willingness of the current Turkish regime to back the Games.

“We have witnessed a strong support which the bid enjoys from the government and this has been highlighted with the presence of president (Abdullah) Gul and many ministers throughout our visit,” he added.

The Islamist government has made organising the Olympics one of its priorities as Turkey tries to promote itself as a regional powerhouse.

Reedie and the IOC inspectors were welcomed on Sunday by Gul before dining Tuesday with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the former Mayor of Istanbul.

Throughout the week Turkey has been emphasising the country’s strong domestic growth, something which is in stark contrast to the difficulties in Japan or the economic crisis in Spain.

Consequently, the Istanbul bid’s budget of more than $19 million (14.87 million euros) far outweighs those of its bid rivals.

However, the IOC’s executive director for the Olympic Games Gilbert Felli warned that that budget wasn’t necessarily exclusive to the Games.

“Even if the Olympic Games are not coming here, most of this budget will be spent,” he said.

“Only a few million out of it will not be spent, all the rest will be spent. We don’t believe this is due only to the Olympic Games.”

Even so, Turkey’s Minister for Sports Suat Kilic said the inspectors had assured him they were confident in the city’s bid.

“I can happily tell you that the IOC team confirmed that Istanbul is ready to receive the Games,” he said.

Candidate cities will brief IOC Members in Lausanne from July 3-4 before the Olympic family makes its decision at the 125th IOC session on September 7 in Buenos Aires.

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