ISTANBUL – A groan went out in the old city of Istanbul where hundreds of hopeful Turks heard the announcement Saturday that Tokyo had been chosen to host the 2020 Olympics.
Istanbul’s failed bid was a blow to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had flown to Buenos Aires to make the case straight from the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Turkey, an early favorite, seemed to falter in June when the government clashed violently with protesters. Istanbul’s bid may also have been hurt by a string of doping scandals among Turkish athletes and the uncertainty of neighboring Syria’s civil war.
“We are of course extremely disappointed not to have been selected but we are grateful to the IOC for giving us this opportunity to bid for the games. It has been a fantastic learning experience for Turkey and our commitment to the Olympic Movement is as strong as it has ever been. We will remain the loyal partner and passionate supporter we have been for over 100 years,” Istanbul bid leader Hasan Arat said.
Rafet Pacali, an Istanbul resident, said the repeated rejection for Istanbul in its fifth bid was difficult to take.
“They just don’t want to give it to us,” he said, while sparing some optimism. “Next time hopefully, if it’s meant to be.”
The city was prepared to celebrate where large TV screens were put up in front of the sixth-century former church of Haghia Sophia. Music blared and red and white Turkish flags waved. The crowd was ecstatic when just over an hour before the final announcement they watched the International Olympic Committee declare that Istanbul had beaten out Madrid to reach a final round of voting against Tokyo.
But when the final announcement was made after 11 p.m. in Istanbul, a brief sound of disappointment gave way to silence and the crowd quickly dissipated. Tokyo had defeated Istanbul 60-36 in the final round of secret voting.
Erdogan had argued that a successful Olympic bid for Istanbul would make it a first for a predominantly Muslim country in a city linking the continents of Europe and Asia. After the vote, he expressed disappointment.
“It wasn’t our fate,” he said, according to Turkish news reports.
The disappointment comes at a politically sensitive time for Erdogan as he faces a series of elections. The Turkish economy is looking increasing shaky after a decade of growth and the protests have polarized the country. The Olympic bid had already become a political issue well before the disappointment.
Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s minister in charge of ties with the European Union, caused a storm last month when he suggested that anti-government protesters would be to blame if Istanbul lost the bid — a charge the country’s main opposition party said was an attempt to “camouflage” any possible failure.
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