How Istanbul won by losing the Olympics 2020 bid

Published September 19th, 2013 - 08:58 GMT
Olympics spending would have at least cost Turkey $20 billion.
Olympics spending would have at least cost Turkey $20 billion.

 So prayers were answered and the city and its residents can now take a deep breath. The city has been saved from a gigantic construction spree for the time being. May the next good turn of events fall to other “unnecessary projects.” It is difficult to wrangle with the kind of national pride that spills forth when the Olympics is uttered, though few know about the costs involved and no one cares.

But thank God other criteria exist, and the moment they enter the fray, political arrogance and the air of a frog puffed up trying to resemble a bull suddenly disappear. Every now and then Turkey is judged by international criteria; a myriad of questions and problems emerge. In fact, an odd Turkey surfaces, incompatible with the international criteria of organizations like FIFA, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the UN and the EU. Oh, precious loneliness!

When the criteria involve sporting rules and sporting success, our country is known these days for rigging and doping. These are of course not problems relegated just to Turkey, but when it rolls around to the Olympics, they mean more. Let's not even touch on football. But while on the topic of sports in general, I do wonder whether the “sports-loving” prime minister will turn over the $20 billion that had been tagged for spending on the Olympics to build better sports infrastructure in Turkey. Of course not, especially since that would be an investment that would not bring forth short-term political and financial benefits!

In the meantime, the general political tableau in Turkey is no more optimistic than the sports scene. These days, Turkey is known for its endless vistas of arrogance, for its warmongering on Syria, for its prime minister's authoritarianism, for its lacking ability to solve problems and for its more and more staggering economy. The perception that Turkey is an island of political stability by virtue of the single-handed victories of the ruling party since 2002 no longer holds much sway outside Turkish borders.

And then, there are the double standards we all know about. The familiar reprises of “they don't like us” were reintroduced immediately in the wake of Tokyo having been chosen to host the Olympics over İstanbul. One particular refrain heard over and over was that Europeans did not vote for İstanbul after Madrid had been eliminated. And this, of course, is possible. But did the government or national Olympics committee officials really cast Turkey in the role of being one of Europe's candidate cities for the Olympics, especially with the unremitting warnings from Ankara to Europe and the EU? Or, I wonder, could all the stress put on the “first Muslim city to host the Olympics” thing have been the wrong tactic to take, especially with the verbal reproach from the prime minister about how “they are cutting their ties with the Islamic world,” making the vote cast by largely Muslim Senegal against İstanbul so meaningless…

In the end, I guess it means that the $20 billion budget was not enough. Otherwise, it would mean that the “international Olympic lobby” couldn't care less about İstanbul's cultural, urban and natural wonders. Similarly, foreign companies just adore when more and more uncontrolled bidding tenders are held here. They would have loved to see the same pattern for the Olympics.

But, today, no one gives much credence to the empty words from the prime minister, such as “We want to send a sincere greeting to the world from the city of tolerance, İstanbul.” On the contrary, people in the streets of Buenos Aires were heard saying, “Turkey should have tried the people responsible for the five deaths during the Gezi protests before becoming an Olympic candidate.” And, to wit, no one should really expect too many gifts for a Turkey that is totally identified by its ruler.

In contrast with this general state of affairs is the beginning of one of the world's most lauded biennales, the 13th İstanbul Biennial. Artists, art critics, enthusiasts and journalists from all over the world are flying into the city this week.

Despite our weaknesses in the areas of sports and politics, at least we have some artistic creativity going on, though for those seeking prestige from the Olympics, this is of no value.


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