Olympics: Istanbul bid chief bangs economic drum

by Pirate Irwin, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 06 2012 06:00 PM | Updated as of Nov 07 2012 02:00 AM

PARIS - Turkey's strong economy should be a positive factor in convincing enough International Olympic Committee members to elect Istanbul as the host of the 2020 Summer Olympics and become the first edition to be hosted on two continents, its bid chief told AFP in an exclusive interview.

Hasan Arat, chief executive of the bid and a successful businessman in his own right, added that for him Turkey would not be the latest in a line of countries from emerging markets to win the right to host major international competitions because for him it had already 'emerged'.

Arat's comments could not have been better timed as they came shortly before Turkey saw credit rating agency Fitch Ratings upgrade it to investment grade on Monday.

"I think it (the strong economy) is important," said Arat, who in 1996 was named businessman of the year by 'The Economist' magazine.

"Last week the Istanbul Stock Exchange was at a record high. Turkey is a huge domestic market.

"We are in the top 15 countries in terms of economic power and according to OECD reports we will be the fastest growing economy for the period between 2011-17.

"This is a great chance for Turkey. The government is giving great support financially and with guarantees."

Arat, a former professional basketball player, said that Istanbul's case differed to other cities that have been awarded major events such as Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games.

"Istanbul's position is different," he said.

"We are a financial and cultural hub. We have emerged. Istanbul is a global city and is the most visited city in the world.

"It is very, very exciting and it sets up the opportunity of a fresh untapped market."

Arat, whose two children are both involved in sports with his 19-year-old daughter Zeynep a volleyball player and his 23-year-old son Ali a Turkish national waterpolo player, said he was getting tired of hearing about how Turkey wanted to also host the Euro 2020 football championships which would not be allowed under IOC rules.

"I want to remind people of one thing. The Turkish Prime Minister (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) who is a former professional footballer joined us in London for the Olympic Games," he said.

"He held meetings with IOC President Jacques Rogge and what he told him was that 'I always had the Olympic flame in my heart and now I want to hold it in my hands'.

"I think that says what holding the Olympic Games means to the the government.

"The Euro was the wish solely of the Turkish Football Federation. Our bid is the government's bid.

"I don't want to talk anymore about Euro 2020 and don't want to hear anymore about it. There is no official bid. The Olympics is the national priority."

Istanbul - who along with rivals Madrid and Tokyo will learn their fate at the vote of the 100-plus IOC members on September 7 next year in Buenos Aires - was reputedly the favourite city of James Bond creator Ian Fleming and features for the third time in a Bond film in the latest one Skyfall.

While Arat refused to say he was Turkey's equivalent of Bond - for a start he is no secret agent - he agreed that the film showed the city in a great light and added that like Bond he was proud to represent his country.

"I am so proud of representing my country," said Arat, who is heading up what is Istanbul's fifth bid for the Games but the first that has been seen as a realistic contender.

"It gives me a lot of energy and every day I think of what can I do a little better.

"There is a great atmosphere among the team. I have a huge responsibility, but I am motivated for my country.

"When I talk about Istanbul 2020, I am talking about Turkey 2020. My dream is to make Olympic history, to really catch an historic moment - one city, one Games and two continents.

"The athletes will have the unique experience of sleeping on the European continent and competing on the Asian continent."

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