Cablegate: Olympic Games: Istanbul 2012?

Published: Fri 25 Jul 2003 02:06 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary: On June 15, Istanbul formally submitted its
application to the International Olympic Committee to host
the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. 8 other cities had also
thrown their hats into the ring: London, Paris, New York,
Madrid, Moscow, Leipzig, Havana, and Rio de Janeiro. Despite
the fierce competition and continuing friction with the
Istanbul municipality, Istanbul Olympic officials believe
that their 2012 bid (their fourth consecutive application) is
their strongest to date and that Istanbul has a good chance
to be chosen as one of the finalists. End Summary.
2. (U) ALWAYS A RUNNER-UP? Despite having lost bids to host
the 2000, 2004, and 2008 games, Istanbul Olympic officials
are optimistic about their prospects for hosting the 2012
Summer Olympic Games. Like other would-be Olympic hosts,
Istanbul faced serious problems in its earlier bids regarding
the lack of sufficient venues and experience hosting
international competitions. Although Istanbul was chosen as
a finalist in 2008, Istanbul Olympic officials believe that
political considerations made Beijing the odds-on favorite
(in addition to the fact that the 2004 games would be in
nearby Athens). This time, however, Istanbul Olympic
officials are hopeful that their bid will be one of the
3. (U) THE MEETING OF CONTINENTS: Yalcin Aksoy, the General
Director of the Preparation and Organization Council for the
Istanbul Olympic Games, told us that Istanbul has two main
advantages in its favor. First, Istanbul is not merely a
geographic link between Europe and Asia: historically,
culturally, and ethnically it brings much of the world
together. The Council plays to this advantage with its
slogan, "Istanbul: The Meeting of Continents." Aksoy also
noted that no Olympic games have ever been hosted by a
predominantly Muslim city.
4. (U) THE TURKISH OLYMPIC ACT: Next, Istanbul Olympic
officials have a unique legislative instrument, the Turkish
Olympic Act of May 1992, that guarantees the political
support and resources needed to prepare for the Olympic
Games. Specifically, the Act (approved unanimously by the
Turkish Parliament) provided for the creation of a permanent
organization and staff to manage Istanbul's bids for the
games. Additionally, the Act devotes specific sources of
revenue, including 5 percent of National Lottery proceeds and
one percent shares of the Sports Lottery, horse-race betting
ticket sales, and Istanbul Greater Municipality budget
(totaling about USD 15-20 million each year).
4. (U) WHITE ELEPHANTS? As a result of this permanent staff
(which Aksoy claimed is unique among cities bidding to host
the Summer Games) and its financial resources, Istanbul has
been able to overcome some of the problems it had with its
early bids. According to Aksoy, at the time of its first
Olympic bid, Istanbul had only one of the 33 sports
installations required to host the Summer Games. Since then
the Council has spent almost USD 200 million on
installations, including an 80,000-seat Olympic stadium
(costing USD 120 million), an Olympic Natatorium, and a
20,000-seat gymnasium. Plans are proceeding for an
exhibition center and an Olympic Village. The Council has
also worked with local sports organizations to develop
experience in hosting international events, including recent
European diving and basketball championships. Aksoy argued
that given Istanbul's size and the local demand for sport,
these venues will not be unused "white elephants." Istanbul
will not build baseball stadiums or field hockey pitches
until it wins its bid for the games, Aksoy said.
Istanbul's main disadvantage is its weak transportation
infrastructure and chronic traffic problems. The city's
unsuccessful efforts to develop transportation networks to
service the rapidly growing population would be a major
problem in hosting an event as large as the Olympic Summer
Games. Additionally, unlike London, Paris, and New York,
Istanbul is not as well known among the members of the
International Olympic Committee (IOC). But new restrictions
imposed after the Salt Lake City scandals that prohibit IOC
members from visiting competing cities virtually guarantees
that most IOC members will have to vote on Istanbul's bid
without really knowing the city. Aksoy worries that their
unfamiliarity and misguided impressions may imperil
Istanbul's Olympic aspirations.
disadvantage, largely downplayed by Aksoy, is the friction
between the Preparation and Organization Council and the
Istanbul Greater Municipality. Although the Istanbul Mayor
is one of the 13 Board Members of the Council, the
legislative requirement that the city hand over one percent
of its budget to the Council has generated significant
tensions. Much of the recent tension has focused on the
issue of transportation. Aksoy admitted that the Olympic
Stadium's debut event last summer (a soccer match between
former UEFA and perennial Turkish Champions Galatasaray and
Greece's Olympiakos) was a "catastrophe" due to the lack of
sufficient roads (Note: Local newspapers and soccer fans
described the traffic into and out of the stadium as worse
than Dante's Inferno). Due to the city's refusal to build
new roads and despite the fact that the Council's revenues
are not supposed to be used for transportation
infrastructure, the Council finally agreed last month to let
the city use a portion of its annual dues to finish the USD
10 million stadium access roads (just in time for Galatasaray
to use the stadium for the 2003-2004 season while their own
stadium is renovated).
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