After losing 2020 Olympic bid to Tokyo, Istanbul mayor to target hosting the Games in 2036

Turkish sport officials will have a lot on their minds next week when the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finally open in empty stadiums and amid a state of emergency due to the raging Coronavirus pandemic.

Vice President of the Turkish Olympic Committee and Chair of Istanbul 2020 Olympic Bid Hasan Arat in Buenos Aires September 2013 (GamesBids Photo)
Vice President of the Turkish Olympic Committee and Chair of Istanbul 2020 Olympic Bid Hasan Arat in Buenos Aires September 2013 (GamesBids Photo)

They’ll wonder if Istanbul missed out, or simply dodged a proverbial bullet eight years ago when Tokyo defeated the former capital to become elected host city for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  Or perhaps it will be the International Olympic Committee (IOC) counting their blessings as the cauldron is lit in capable Japan to launch the most unusual Olympics in history.

In 2013 Istanbul had become the odds-on favorite to win the 2020 bid with rivals Japan struggling to control the conversation around the Fukushima Nuclear disaster and Madrid defending its new concept of a sustainable austerity Games that was just a bit ahead of its time.

After four consecutive failed attempts from 2000 to 2012, Istanbul had risen to the top of the 2020 bid race with rivals struggling to keep up with Turkey’s mission to use the Games to bridge cultures, enable and inspire youth and host the first Games in a Muslim majority nation.  But at the moment bid officials were presenting their compelling vision to international sport executives at an important meeting in St. Petersburgh, Russia, anti-government protests and riots broke out at home – marking the beginning of the end of the dream just weeks before the final vote.

Istanbul’s subsequent internationally televised social struggles overshadowed the Olympic bid, sending it into a tailspin.  Tokyo won the final ballot by a vote of 60 to 36.  Madrid placed third after losing a first round tie-breaker with Istanbul.

Now Istanbul’s Mayor believes its time to try again, for a sixth time, and is looking at 2036 as a possible date.

“Our objective is (to host) the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2036,” Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu told reporters Tuesday

“I am convinced that we will win,” he said.

Sport leaders are onside too.  Last year Vice President of the Turkish National Olympic Committee (TNOC) Hazan Arat said “Istanbul should be a candidate city for the 2032 Summer Olympic Games.”

“The world has seen how we lost to Tokyo in the last minute,” Arat added.

“Turkey deserved the Olympics.

“Istanbul made important progress [after the bid].”

The IOC is readying to elect Brisbane next week to host the Games in 2032 after a new controversial and opaque process lead to the preemptive naming of the Australian city as the preferred candidate, catching other prospective hosts unprepared.  Bid reforms did away with schedules and protocols – and the shock announcement that was made four years ahead of the typical timeline caught other regions such a Germany, Qatar, Indonesia, India, Hungary and the Korean Peninsula back on their heels with bids still in development.

The IOC says it will continue to run the bid process in the shadows in what officials claim to be an effort to protect losing cities from shame, and to eliminate expensive and public head-to-head battles that we’ve seen previously.

Istanbul can join this process now by engaging the IOC Future Host Commission in what has been referred to as ‘ongoing dialogue’.  Future hosts could be named preferred candidates at any time.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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