IOC Commission Chair Reedie Commends “Extraordinary” Istanbul's Olympic Bid for 2020

Istanbul, Turkey – Sir Craig Reedie and his team of International Olympic Committee (IOC) evaluators wrapped up their four-day official visit to Istanbul Wednesday.

We were “very pleased to spend time here in the extraordinary city of Istanbul,” Reedie said.

“We have an excellent impression of the skills and enthusiasm of the Istanbul bid team.

“And excellent impression is the same as a huge impression and great impression,” Reedie quipped in reference to terms he used earlier in the month for Tokyo and Madrid, Istanbul’s rivals.

During the venue visits, presentations and meetings held throughout the inspection, Istanbul’s bid team had the opportunity to address key concerns regarding the ability of Turkey to successfully host the Games. Many questions were answered.

On traffic, Istanbul is considered to be one of the most traffic congested cities in Europe but the bid’s head of transport was able to lay out a reasonable strategic plan to reduce this problem by Games time. The use of Olympic lanes, reduced private vehicle use through incentives and the addition of new mass transit connections are expected to help the flow of traffic in 2020.

Part of the Olympic transport plan is already in production, even while the Games have yet to be awarded. The addition of new rail lines, including the Marmaray rail tunnel line with the Eurasia Bosphorus tunnel which connects the Europe and Asia sides of Istanbul, are set to open October 29th this year – the 90th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

This new rail network is evidence to a unique feature in Istanbul’s $19.2 billion dollar Games budget – some of the funds have already been allocated, spent and capitalized. When complete, the project will cost $4.5 billion, but over $3 billion has already been spent, and stations, bridges and tunnels now exist as construction projects ready to be delivered. The entire transport budget is almost $10 billion dollars, roughly half of the entire Games project, but these plans will clearly be delivered regardless of what city is chosen to host in September and perhaps don’t belong in the overall figure.

Bid Chief Hasan Arat told “it’s already in the budget. They are not waiting for the Olympic Games; they are already investing in the infrastructure for the city.”

“The money is there. It is very important (that the money is identified in the bid book), it is not a promise.

Arat explained that the team wanted to identify the investments that were going on, regardless of the Games, as a positive thing.

TOKI, Turkey’s housing and urban development agency, will be the Organizing committee’s delivery authority should Istanbul win. Spending billions of dollars annually to build housing, sport and commerce venues is “business as usual” the TOKI Chief told the IOC. In fact, TOKI is contracted by other municipalities to do the same so the agency’s capacity is quite high. With funds already available to the organization and the additional money guaranteed by the President, this seems to be a relatively low risk project, in contrast to prevailing opinion.

At the closing press conference IOC Executive Director Gilbert Felli said that Istanbul’s budget is largely capital investment and not operational costs, so it wasn’t too much of a concern for the IOC.

In addition, the land surrounding the Olympic Stadium (yes, Istanbul built an Olympic Stadium seven years ago complete with branding and the interlocking rings on the steel maintenance hole covers) has been zoned by the government “for Olympic use only”. There will be no hassles to get building permits, purchase land, or relocate existing structures – this area is ready to go at virtually no additional cost or red tape. Several venues will be built in this Olympic City cluster that later this year will have its own metro station.

On Wednesday morning the IOC reviewed the security theme and Istanbul’s Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu addressed the issue.

“Istanbul in terms of terrorism and other crimes is already secure and strong,” he said.

“Security is a brand value of Istanbul.”

The Governor said a security investment is needed in Istanbul regardless of the 2020 Games and the Olympics would help accelerate the process.

Technically, Istanbul appears to be a good choice for the IOC to partner with, but it appears that the Turkish city is struggling with an identity crisis. The new “Bridge Together” slogan seemed engineered to address this.

It’s more about just bridging continents, the bid team tells, it’s about bridging cultures, religions and more.

Turkey’s Sport Minister Suat Kilic said “Istanbul promises peace and the adoption of universal values.”

“Istanbul wants to host these values.

“In Istanbul we have a mosque, a church and a synagogue all on the same street.

“Istanbul has a secular democracy; it is a model for the region. Istanbul will put forth a tremendous energy; an energy we believe will help the whole region. The region needs democracy, freedoms and human rights. Turkey, in this regard is a true regional leader.

“Istanbul is a beauty that people envy, but Istanbul is not only for us.”

The IOC was hosted by Tokyo and Madrid earlier this month for similar evaluations and now the evaluation team will return to Lausanne where they will develop an evaluation report on the three cities. This report will be published to the entire membership in July prior to an extraordinary IOC session when each city will also have a chance to make presentations and answer questions.

The IOC will vote for the 2020 host city at its session on September 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.