Istanbul hopes to impress IOC panel with 2020 bid

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — After four unsuccessful attempts, Istanbul is ready to pitch its bid for the 2020 Olympics by stressing Turkey's robust economy, plans for modern venues and a two-continent backdrop.

The city of nearly 15 million, which straddles Europe and Asia, is touting its unique geographical location to set it apart from rival bidders Tokyo and Madrid.

The IOC's evaluation commission arrives in Istanbul this weekend for a four-day tour to assess Istanbul's plans, finances and existing venues.

The panel, headed by IOC Vice President Craig Reedie, has already visited Tokyo and Madrid. The full IOC will select the 2020 host city in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7.

Many of Istanbul's venues will need to be constructed from scratch but Turkey sees this as an advantage, not a setback. Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympics and Spain held the games in Barcelona in 1992.

"The Istanbul Olympics would be presenting a totally modern, brand new, and specially designed facilities that would 100 percent meet the requirements of each of the sports branches," Turkey's Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kilic told the Associated Press in an interview before the IOC visit.

Istanbul would bring the games to a new region that sits on two continents and to a predominantly Muslim nation for the first time.

"Istanbul is the only place which promises Olympic Games held on two continents, at the same time," Kilic said. "The opening ceremony will be held in Asia with the Bosporus and the continent of Europe as the backdrop, while the water sports competitions will be held on the Golden Horn, with the Bosporus Bridge and Asia in the background."

The Golden Horn is a waterway on the European side, separating the old and new parts of the city.

Addressing the city's notorious congestion, Turkey is undertaking a series of massive projects, including the construction of a six-runway third airport for the city to be built by 2016, a third bridge crossing the Bosporus, an underwater rail link also uniting the European and Asian sides of the city as well as expanded metro and light rail lines.

Istanbul's projected infrastructure budget for the Olympics is $19.2 billion — 10 times that of Madrid ($1.9 billion) and much higher than that of Tokyo ($4.9 billion).

Madrid, which is mired in recession, contends its spendthrift approach is better suited for the games, but Turkey is dismissing any notion of excess and insisting all projects are among Turkey's development plans for the next five years and will proceed independently from the Olympic bid.

"We don't have a penny to squander. Each penny that we are spending is intended to serve Istanbul's needs for the years to come," Kilic said.

"This is what the Olympic legacy is all about," he added. "Perhaps this will be the first games in history where so much Olympic legacy will be left behind for the use of the people. All of the facilities, the infrastructure, the metro, the health facilities, the sports facilities — all of it, will serve future needs of the city of 15 million."

Turkey boasts a young population, a stable democracy and strong economic growth.

"Everybody is aware of Turkey's economic stability," Kilic said. "We are the No.1 fastest growing economy in Europe. Among the (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, we have the No. 2 fastest growing economy."

Turkey had expressed an interest in hosting the 2020 European soccer championship, which would weaken its Olympic bid, but Kilic said Turkey was putting its full weight behind hosting the games.

"Our position is very clear," Kilic said. "Between the two options Turkey has given its preference — and all its weight — to the Olympic Games. Our application to host the games has Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's signature. We have clearly made our choice in favor of the Olympics."

Kilic said the fact that this is Istanbul's fifth attempt at hosting the games was proof of its enthusiasm. Istanbul tried previously for the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 20012 Olympics.

"Persistently and with an undying buzz, we have displayed our willingness to host these games," Kilic said. "No one can remain indifferent to this enthusiasm."