Last month, the International Olympic Committee visited Tokyo, Madrid, and finally, Istanbul to assess which city is the best choice to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. If you ask any Istanbuler, the answer is a compelling “Yes !– Yes, we can outdo Tokyo and Madrid.”
Istanbul hosted 9.5 million foreign tourists in 2012, and the Turkish government expects another 10 million in 2013. The indication is clear: People from all over the world are comfortable in IstanbulCeylan Ozbudak
All three contenders are shining lights on the face the world and all are very creditable picks for the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo has the experience of the 1964 games, but what place can compete with the illustrious history, the romance, and the beauty which is bound up in the word “Madrid”? Only Istanbul! And how has it come about that these twin jewels of the Mediterranean should meet in such poignant competition? What an exciting contest this is!
First, against the backdrop of conflicts between Ba’athism and radicalism, Turkey, while maintaining her historic Muslim identity, has been an oasis of democracy, pluralism, economic growth, and good will to the whole world. Banking on Turkey is to invest in a broader Middle East that also wishes to be modern, democratic, and pluralist. The Games are not political – but their endorsement helps create a better Middle East.
Comfortable in Istanbul
And the world has taken notice. Istanbul hosted 9.5 million foreign tourists in 2012, and the Turkish government expects another 10 million in 2013. The indication is clear: People from all over the world are comfortable in Istanbul, and we in Istanbul are comfortable with our guests! Were the IOC to award our city the 2020 games, it would send a strong message to other Muslim nations that the world is ready to engage Muslim people, provided that Muslims show hospitality to the rest of the world. And isn’t that only befitting, after all? Therefore this is a wonderful opportunity for Turkey to do what she does best—bring people together in peace and celebration.
Second, we are ready. Istanbul has the infrastructure that a world-wide celebration requires, and we are fully equipped to host such a party. In 2005, we hosted the UEFA Champions League Final. In 2009, we hosted the UEFA Cup Final in football, and in 2010, the FIBA World Championship for Men. In 2011/12, we hosted the Euro League 2011–12 Final Four in basketball, the WTA Tour Championships in tennis, and the IAAF World Indoor Championships. This year, 2013, we are slated to host the FIFA U-20 World Cup, and in 2014, the FIBA World Championship for Women. There is never a dull moment for sports fans in Istanbul! We have the experiences, facilities and the know-how to host the world.
Third, in Istanbul, we have metropolitan travel, hotel accommodations, safe streets, glistening airports, and a cosmopolitan look and feel which befits a host of this truly world-wide celebration. The Turkish government has put up €14.87 billion to accommodate the XXXII Olympiad, much of which is being devoted to streamlining the public transportation system between the European and Asian sections of the city. Taken en toto, this sum is three times more than the commitments of Tokyo and Madrid combined! This expenditure alone is a testimony to the success of our political model, to our respect for the IOC and for the Olympic ideal itself. The whole city can feel it: Our time has come!
Beyond all these attractions, Istanbul offers a benefit, which transcends facilities, buildings and roads--- something that can be imitated, but not replicated, anywhere else in the world: Turkish hospitality and good will. Unlike the other contenders, Istanbul is the site of glorious mosques, churches, and synagogues which are envies of the world, and which date to antiquity of thousands of years, and the doors of which are always open. Likewise, the hearts of the people of Istanbul are open to the world! Here, Turks, Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Arabs, Kurds and an array of others mix freely and happily. The Olympic community has already found that we left an “excellent impression” during the visit last week. Surely, the entire world will feel at home in this great city.
Fourth, Tokyo is firmly in the east geographically, and Madrid in the west. The 2012 games were held in the West (Great Britain) and the 2008 games were in the East (China). Istanbul is the perfect location that sits literally between East and West, bridging Asia and Europe with Bosphorus. Its marvelous and varied architecture, long history and diverse culture on either side of the Bosphorus illustrate Istanbul’s compelling attraction. Why would the Olympic Committee choose between the east and west again, when it can choose Istanbul as an excellent option that negates the usual predictability of the location of the games? With Istanbul, it gets Asia and Europe, East and the West – a solid win.
Finally, the 2008 Beijing games showcased a China that was Communist politically, but aimed to be capitalist economically. The 2012 London games showed us a Britain that had abandoned the stuffiness of empire and embraced diversity and a more down-to-earth monarchy, music, and mass popularity of the games in the UK. Over the last fifty years, Turkey has traveled through ending empire, military rule, defeating terror, and creating a free country with economic opportunities for its citizens. Turkey is a Muslim democracy, a member of NATO, a leader in the Middle East, and a thriving economy. Let the 2020 Olympic Games be our opportunity to tell the world about an Islam and a Middle East that is loving, compassionate, competitive, and hospitable.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak