Olympics Have Power to Unite, Says Turkish Leader

(ATR) A 2020 Olympics in Istanbul would have the power to boost morale and unify a fractured region of the world, says the president of Turkey. Around the Rings Editor Ed Hula has more from Istanbul ...

(ATR) A 2020 Olympics in Istanbul would have the power to boost morale and unify a fractured region of the world, says the president of Turkey.

Abdullah Gül spoke at the open of the Istanbul visit of the IOC Evaluation Commission for the 2020 Olympics on Sunday morning and then followed with a 45-minute meeting with a group of international journalists covering the visit. He hosted the group at a lodge he uses on an estate overlooking theBosporus. His official residence and office is in the capital, Ankara.

Gül emphasized Istanbul’s geographic position as a crossroads of the world as good reason to award the Games to the city, which is making its fifth bid. Gül observed that the Balkans, Central Asia, the Mideast are within three or four hours by air from Istanbul.

"If the Olympics is held in Istanbul, then all these different cultures, peoples and races will feel as if the Olympics are being held where they are. They will feel within the Olympic spirit," he says.

"It would be a great source of enthusiasm and morale injected to the Middle East in general because Istanbul is viewed as an important capital. The Middle East needs morale," said the Turkish leader.

And he noted that awarding the Olympics for the first time to a Moslem nation would also be welcomed.

"It would show that the Olympics are truly universal, that it embraces everyone. The Moslem world would feel very positive about it," he said.

Gül says on this fifth bid Istanbul is finally ready to host the Olympics. He admits Turkey was not ready before.

"Looking back now, I agree this was the right decision [by the IOC] because when you look at Turkey 10 years ago and Turkey today, you can see great change. There is stabilityin the government, a strong government that is able to deliver its promises," said Gül.

He says he is "very proud" of his work as a government leader since 1991 and the changes he and his colleagues have brought to Turkey. Gül, 62, has previously served as prime minister as well as foreign minister. He will serve as president until 2017 when his second term ends.

"If you look at the international global environment where there is financial crisis, you see that Turkey’s economy is performing very well. We are very strong economicallyspeaking. And this I say as a way of expressing we have the ability and capacity to build the facilities that are required to host the Olympics."

Gül said that plans to spend $19 billion on infrastructure ahead of 2020 is feasible because the work is part of a master plan to coincide with the centennial of the Turkish republic in 2023. The figure is multiples of what 2020 rivals Madrid and Tokyo are planning.

"It’s something we are doing already. If Istanbul wins the Olympics, what we do for the Olympics will complement what we do for centennial," he said.

Gül promised reporters the Olympics will bring facilities for sport "that will be used fully" given Turkey's youthful population.

Gül says he has yet to decide whether he will go to Buenos Aires in September where the IOC will vote on a 2020 host.

The IOC Evaluation Commission wraps up its tour of the three 2020 bids this week in Istanbul. The panel reconvenes in April to compile its report to be issued in June.

Written and reported in Istanbul by Ed Hula Ed HulaFor general comments or questions, click here

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