Promoters of Istanbul’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics remain confident the Turkish people are united behind their campaign despite fierce anti-government protests around the country in recent days.
As riot police used tear gas against protesters Monday for a fourth straight day in Istanbul, two senior IOC officials said the unrest should not harm the bid.
The demonstrations grew out of anger over a violent police crackdown of a peaceful environmental protest at Istanbul’s Taksim Square and spread to other Turkish cities. The protests by mostly secular-minded Turks have spiraled into Turkey’s biggest anti-government disturbances in years.
The protests are seen as a display of frustration with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom critics say has become increasingly authoritarian.
Istanbul bid organizers say they’re monitoring the demonstrations in Istanbul “very carefully” and, while they’re buoyed by the “positive community spirit in helping to clean up and repair damage,” the situation remains fluid.
“Despite these recent events, all sections of Turkey remain united in our dream to host our nation’s first ever Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020,” Istanbul 2020 said in a statement. “The slogan for our Olympic bid is ‘Bridge Together’ and there is a common desire to unite in the Olympic spirit and show the world that we can work together for a better Turkey.”
Istanbul is vying with Madrid and Tokyo for the right to stage the 2020 Summer Games, with the International Olympic Committee set to select the host city in a vote on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Denis Oswald, a candidate to succeed IOC President Jacques Rogge in September, said Monday that the protests shouldn’t threaten the bid- at least for now.
“It’s a beginning of a protest that can happen in any democratic country,” the Swiss IOC member and international rowing federation chief said. “For the time being we’ll see how it develops, how important this protest is. We have had that in many countries where we had Olympic Games.
“I don’t think it would necessarily affect the candidature. We are still three months away from the decision. It will depend if this continues and develops, but for the time being I don’t think it’s a real threat for the candidature.”
IOC Vice President Thomas Bach of Germany, another presidential candidate, also dismissed the protests as a factor in the bidding.
“It’s not going to have any influence on the decision of the IOC members,” he told German agency dpa. “All of them are experienced enough to realize that you are talking about a bid for the Olympic Games in seven years.”
All three bid teams made presentations to the Sport Accord conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, last week - each claiming to be the safest and most financially secure choice.
Istanbul is bidding for a fifth time.
“In the past, Turkey bid for the games as an emerging nation,” Istanbul bid leader Hasan Arat told the conference last week. “This time, Turkey is bidding as an emerged nation.”
The IOC evaluation commission will issue a report on June 25 assessing the three bids and the candidate cities will make presentations directly to IOC members in Lausanne, Switzerland on July 3.