Istanbul 2020 Olympics: Is the Campaign Doomed By Protests?


As the widespread anti-government protests in Turkey continue, there is speculation as to whether they will impact Istanbul's bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. Protests have spread across the country after a violent police crack down on a peaceful demonstration against the demolition of an Istanbul park last week. The Turkish city, which has been the scene of huge protests and a violent police response over the past few days, is competing with Madrid and Tokyo to host the event. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is due to make its decision in September.

The promoters of the bid remain confident, but the longer the protests continue — and they show no sign of stopping anytime soon — the more they are likely to negatively affect Turkey's image and its chances of winning the vote.

Amid growing reports of government attempts to censor the communications of protesters, and the start of a two day strike by public sector unions in solidarity with the protesters, the bid organizers said on Sunday that "despite these recent events, all sections of Turkey remain united in our dream to host our nation's first ever Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020." Referencing the slogan of the bid, 'Bridge Together', they said that among Turks "there is a common desire to unite in the Olympic spirit and show the world that we can work together for a better Turkey." 

The bid is Turkey's fifth to host the games, and as Mark Johanson of the International Business Times rightly points out, "how well Istanbul handles the protests will likely become a major factor in the success or failure of its bid for the Olympic." Promoters of the bid have labelled the ongoing protests a "regrettable situation" and have said that they will monitor developments carefully. Regrettable because of the violent police crack down and the government's attempt to stifle dissent, or because of how the protests might harm Turkey's image and the prospects of the bid? It's not hard to guess which.

The IOC evaluation commission will report on its assessment of the three bids on June 25, following the presentations last week in St Petersburg. The candidate cities will then present their bids directly to IOC members at the beginning of July. Given that in the past the IOC has awarded the Olympics to countries where the government systematically cracks down on dissent, such as China, IOC members are likely to be less concerned about the grievances of the protesters and the government response, and more concerned simply with whether the city would be safe for athletes or not.

Given that events such as the Olympics Games can confer upon the host government a certain air of legitimacy and prestige, and also provides a large spectacle that serves to distract attention, both domestically and internationally, from other things going on inside the country, the Turkish government will no doubt be even more keen for the bid to be successful. 

Given the circumstances, should the IOC even be willing to award the Turkish government with such a prestigious event or should there be calls for a boycott?

Let me know what you think in the comments below