Istanbul’s 2020 bid addresses unrest

As Turkey’s prime minister lashed out at protesters, leaders of Istanbul’s bid for the 2020 Summer Games sought to diminish the impact of the unrest in a presentation Saturday to a key audience of Olympic officials from around the world.

Istanbul officials said the ”voice of tolerance” will prevail in the wake of the anti-government demonstrations that have roiled Turkey for two weeks and raised questions about the country’s readiness to host the Olympics.

The Istanbul bid team addressed the crisis directly in a presentation to a conference of more than 200 national Olympic committees.

Less than three months before the IOC vote, rival bidders Madrid and Tokyo also made their case to the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees.

Istanbul’s bid has been thrown on the defensive by the unrest in Turkey, the biggest challenge to the 10-year rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Images this week of police firing tear gas and rubber bullets and using water cannons against demonstrators in Istanbul’s Taksim Square have tarnished Turkey’s image abroad and posed serious challenges for the bid.

Turkish IOC member Ugur Erdener, the head of Turkey’s Olympic committee, told the delegates he wanted to speak ”about the headlines you may be reading.”

”The path of a democratic nation is not always an easy one,” he said. ”But it is the right one. We welcome the dialogue that is taking place and beginning to wind down the protests.

”In Istanbul, the voice of progress will be tempered by the voice of tolerance. And the bond of our secular democracy and its responsibility to govern will be strengthened. And Istanbul will be an even better host for 2020.”

Turkish tennis player Cagla Buyukakcay also referred to the troubles back home.

”You may have seen us in the news lately, but don’t be confused,” she said. ”All of us believe in the games. We want these games. We believe in Turkey and a bright future in our secular democratic republic. … You can trust us.”

Bidding for the fifth time, Turkey would be the first predominantly Muslim country to host the Olympics. Turkish leaders have been stressing that the country is a secular democracy and pointing to Turkey’s growing economy and its geographical location linking Europe and Asia.

On Saturday, Erdogan made a boisterous speech to supporters in Sincan, Turkey, railing against what he called the ”plot” behind the biggest street protests in his tenure. The rally came just hours after protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park defied Erdogan’s warning that they must leave, vowing to press on with a two-week sit-in that has galvanized demonstrations around the country.

Tokyo, which hosted the 1964 Olympics and mounted an unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Games, played up Japan’s financial strength and the city’s reputation for safety during its presentation in Lausanne.

Bid leader Tsunekazu Takeda said Tokyo was representing Asia – ”the largest continent in the world with 4 billion people.”

He noted that Tokyo has a $4.5 billion fund for Olympic construction that is already in the bank.

”We are a safe pair of hands,” he said.

Madrid, bidding for a third straight time, sought to counter concerns over Spain’s economic troubles, insisting the games posed ”zero financial risk.” The Madrid bid team said the Olympic construction budget is only $1.5 billion because 80 percent of the facilities are already complete.

”Spain’s economic foundations are solid, multifaceted and capable of meeting the investment budget required to stage the games,” Spain Secretary of State for Trade Jaime Garcia-Legaz said.

Madrid bid CEO Victor Sanchez said only four permanent facilities and three temporary venues needed to be built.

”Madrid’s legacy is not on blueprints,” he said. ”It’s out there on the ground already.”

The bid cities will next make technical presentations to members of the International Olympic Committee on July 3 in Lausanne. The IOC will vote on the host city by secret ballot Sept. 7 at its meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina.