2020: Too Soon for Turkey
Desire to pick a Muslim-majority host shouldn’t overrule other concerns.

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan (top right) attends an Olympic event in London, July 28, 2012.


Michael Rubin

On Sunday, the 2012 Summer Olympic Games came to a close. London’s spectacle was successful, even if marred at times by scandal and excessive political correctness. The end of the games may bring calm to London traffic, but the closing ceremony was simply the starting whistle for the final leg of another race: The competition to host the 2020 games.

The Olympics will travel to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Games, but the 2020 decision is looming. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) already whittled the finalists down to three, when Baku, Azerbaijan, and Doha, Qatar, failed to make the final cut. In January 2013, the remaining contenders — Madrid, Tokyo, and Istanbul — will submit bid books and, over the following several months, will welcome visiting IOC delegations. In June, the three finalists will address issues raised during the evaluation visits at IOC headquarters in Lausanne; on September 7, 2013, the IOC will formally elect the 2020 host at a meeting in Buenos Aires.

Of the three finalists’ countries, only Turkey has never before hosted the Olympic Games. Tokyo won the bid for the 1940 games, cancelled because of World War II, but hosted the event 24 years later. Barcelona brought the Olympics to Spain in 1992. Madrid has bid for the honor three times already — in 1972 it lost to Munich; it failed to make the final cut for 2012; and it lost to Rio for the 2016 games. Many Spaniards question whether they can even afford to continue their 2020 bid, and so it is likely that Madrid will become a four-time loser.

Enter Turkey. On its surface, there is much to be said for Istanbul. It is a beautiful city, and can literally claim to bridge two continents. Having failed to make the cut for five previous Olympiads, it has persistence going for it. Yet, because of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements in London, awarding Istanbul the games could do more to undercut the Olympic spirit than any choice since Berlin in 1936.

Speaking to reporters in London after meeting privately with IOC head Jacques Rogge, Erdogan rooted Turkey’s case to host the games in religion. “No country with a majority of Muslim population has ever hosted the Olympics,” he said, later telling Turkish television, “It is not fair.” Emphasizing the point, the Turkish Olympic Committee selected from five Istanbul 2020 logo finalists the only one that emphasized mosques and minarets. Never has a host-city logo featured such religious symbols unless one counts those incorporated into the national flag or, in the case of the 1992 winter games in Albertville, the regional flag of Savoy.  


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