BUENOS AIRES – The bloody Syrian civil war cost Istanbul votes over Tokyo to host the world’s biggest sporting event in 2020, two influential International Olympic Committee members said.
Istanbul — which had been trying to bring the Olympic Games for the first time to a predominantly Muslim country — reached the final round of voting for the first time after four previous failed attempts, but lost heavily in the second round garnering just 36 IOC members votes to the 60 received by Tokyo.
There had been concerns that Istanbul could suffer from the fallout over the Syrian conflict, which has seen over 500,000 refugees cross over into Turkish territory, although several members denied it would.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan has also been one of the most bullish in demanding that bombing raids be carried out against the Syrian regime after they allegedly used chemical weapons against their own citizens.
Erdogan, who also harmed the bid in IOC members’ eyes after his security forces used a heavy hand against anti-government protestors in June, was present for the final presentation in Buenos Aires and said sport and peace were inextricably linked.
Longtime IOC member Prince Albert of Monaco said the unstable situation in the region harmed Istanbul’s cause.
“The geopolitical situation certainly played a role,” he told AFP.
“IOC members prefer surefire bets… Istanbul, like the others, was a really good candidacy.
“However, Tokyo offered a safe pair of hands. There is no problem with financing the Games, neither for the construction nor the organization.”
IOC vice-president Thomas Bach, favored to succeed Jacques Rogge when he steps down as IOC president on Tuesday, agreed that the instability hurt Istanbul’s chances.
“There you have one candidature addressing more the sense of tradition and stability and another candidature addresses the longing for new shores,” said the 59-year-old German lawyer.
“This we have seen in the past also with different bids and this time the IOC members — in a fragile world — have decided in favor of tradition and stability.”
Bach, an Olympic gold medalist in the team foil fencing event at the 1976 Games, said that he and his colleagues had to take a long-term view of how the world would look in 2020.
“We live in a world in which it is difficult to predict how it will look like in three months from now,” he said.
“The members had to take the very difficult decision on how the world will look like in seven years from now.”
Hasan Arat, the tireless and dynamic president of the Istanbul bid, said he and his team were extremely disappointed but it had been a “fantastic learning experience” and he took great pleasure out of another consequence of the campaign.
“We may not have won the (Olympic) Games, but we united the nation. And for that, we can always be proud,” he said.