Istanbul is chasing an Olympic dream. A week before the final decision on who will host the Olympics 2020, team Turkey upped its game by re-naming its campaign, “History in the Making”.
Yes, they actually believe this last-minute name change will boost their chances of being the designated city for the Olympics. As Turkey’s bid leader Hasan Arat says, “It’s Istanbul’s time to shine bright like a diamond.” And in a race as close as this – who knows, it might just work.
Turkey has just figured out the power of branding but still has a long way to go before it masters it. This is the sixth consecutive bid Istanbul has made for the Summer Olympics. But it’s turning into another sob story for my country, along with its ambitious pursuit of EU membership, which has been in the pipeline for three decades now.
The waiting goes on and the bottom line is: we Turkish are left with a sense that we are not good enough. I don’t want to sound dramatic – I know Madrid has been rejected three times before as well – but at least another Spanish city in landed the job in 1992.
I guess another major difference between Istanbulites and the Madrileños is that 75 per cent of Madrid’s population want the event to take place in their city, whereas the number is radically lower in Istanbul. Ask any Istanbul resident how they feel about the Olympics and the first answer you’ll get is “imagine how horrible the traffic will be”. Istanbul is the most congested city in Europe – on average, commuters have to add a cautionary 59 extra minutes to their planned journeys. And that’s on a good day.
And whatever excitement there was for an Istanbul Olympics – well, that died on 31 May with the protests at Gezi Park. What’s happening there has cemented fear in the minds of Istanbul dwellers that the government can redevelop the city however it wants and the opinions of its citizens do not matter.
But the outside world might have misinterpreted Turkey’s Gezi Park protests and I would dread it if those misconceptions ultimately cost Istanbul the chance to host the Olympic Games.
A third of Istanbul’s 15 million residents are below the age of 20 – the age group that played the most prominent part in the protests. Imagine what would happen if those people – my generation and younger – grew up under the prospect of an impending Olympic Games. Maybe Turkey could produce some champions beyond the wrestling ring, which is where our only gold medals have ever come from. Giving the Olympics to Istanbul wouldn’t just be about sport, it would be about channeling the energy of my generation into something positive.
Maybe inviting the world to Istanbul will mean it can move forward and start fulfilling the vision that another seasoned traveller, Napoleon, set for it a long time ago – as a world capital, if Earth were a single state.
Alexandra De Cramer is a researcher for Monocle 24.