Hasan Arat

'America's bid,' whichever city it is


The U.S. Olympic Committee formally announced Tuesday it intends to launch a bid for the 2024 Summer Games, by now the news equivalent of dog bites man. It has been evident for months the USOC would be in the game for the Games. The issue is what city, and when the USOC will finally announce its choice from among four: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston or Washington, D.C. In that spirit, it’s so interesting that International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach is now making plans to attend Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. Just imagining here: if you came all the way over from the IOC’s base in Switzerland to Arizona, wouldn’t USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, make for a handy place to ask all four U.S. bid cities to come for, say, a briefing on Agenda 2020, the IOC’s just-passed series of initiatives? Then again, if you were the IOC president spending a little time in the United States, of course you would meet with top-tier sponsors in New York — which would also do just fine, too, for a quiet rendezvous on the side with bid-city teams, right?

If you had an active imagination, you might bet this was why, among other reasons, the USOC didn’t choose one city Tuesday from among the four.

No need. No time pressure. Why, after spending nearly a year getting to Tuesday and board of director approval to jump into 2024, force a decision that doesn’t now need to be made? Early next year sometime — that’s plenty fine.

The five rings in a scene from the 2010 Games in Vancouver // photo Getty Images

This is a race with a long, long, long way to go. It holds many, many variables.

There are but a few certainties.

This: come 2024 it will have been 22 years since the Olympic Games were in the United States, since the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002, and 28 years since the Summer Games in Atlanta in 1996.

This, too: 2008 Beijing (Asia). 2012 London (Europe). 2016 Rio de Janeiro (South America). 2020 Tokyo (back to Asia). The IOC has a kinda-sorta continental rotation rule that’s not really a rule but if it were one — it would be time in 2024 to go to North America.

And this: in May, NBC paid $7.65 billion dollars to the IOC to extend its right to televise the Games in the United States from 2022 through 2032. At some point, the Olympics are coming back to the United States; the first opportunity is 2024.

Rome jumped in Monday to the 2024 campaign. Fascinating. For the 2020 race, the economy was so bad in Italy that the then-prime minister yanked the Rome bid right out. Since, all across Europe, cities pulled out of the 2022 Winter Games race, mostly because of the economy (and the prospect of spending billions of euros when measured against that $51 billion figure associated with the Sochi 2014 Games).

Italian premier Matteo Renzi told Associated Press the Rome 2024 campaign “isn’t based on great infrastructures or big dreams but rather great people,” adding, “We will be at the vanguard for all the spending controls.”

Berlin or Hamburg are going to jump, if they can get past voters in Germany. With all due respect to the IOC president, who is German, this proved the challenge in Munich, which — after coming up short for 2018 — tried to mount a campaign for 2022 and could not get past the ballot box.

Paris is making noise about 2024. OK, but have the French learned their lessons from the disaster that was the Annecy bid for 2018? Oh, and the European economy.

Budapest? Where the sports leaders are eager but the political establishment not so much? And about that European economy …

Istanbul? The 2020 bid leader, Hasan Arat, is one of the great guys in the Olympic movement. The challenge there is president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Three weeks ago, at an international conference on justice and rights for women, he said, “You cannot put women and men on equal footing,” and, for good measure, said some forms of work are just not suitable for women: “Give her a shovel and maker her work — this cannot be. It would be primarily against her delicate nature.” One of the 40 planks of Agenda 2020 affirms what’s called Principle 6 of the Olympic movement, which calls for non-discrimination of all sorts.

South Africa. If they win the 2022 Commonwealth Games there, 2024, too?

Doha is often mentioned as a 2024 possibility. The economy is not an issue in Qatar. But there are all kinds of machinations about whether or not Qatar will or won’t bid, or should or shouldn’t. Stay tuned.

At this very early stage — and it needs to be stressed that at the end of 2014 for a vote that won’t be taken until 2017, it is almost comically early in the 2024 race — you see the dominoes potentially lining up.

There is intense interest — again, intense interest — within some of the highest levels of the Olympic movement in seeing a 2024 Games in the U.S.

That was the message Larry Probst, the USOC chairman, put it as plainly as he could — he’s not in the business of giving anything away, nor should he be — in a teleconference Tuesday with reporters.

He said that “all across the board,” from IOC members and leadership, there is encouragement for the Americans, who have spent the past five years — since the debacle that was the Chicago 2016 vote in October 2009 in Copenhagen — promoting humility and repairing relationships in the Olympic sphere.

Or, as Scott Blackmun, the USOC’s chief executive put it, “It is a really good time for us to throw our hat into the ring again.”

So which of the four cities will it be?

“It’s a four-way tie,” Blackmun said on the teleconference, being politically correct, which for now is totally appropriate.

The truth-serum answer: it’s the one that not just can, but will, win.

Which one will that be?

This is where it’s appropriate to ask hard questions, to not hold on to even the slightest bit of romance about what you might think about the cities. Olympic bidding is not for the faint of heart or the naive.

It’s one thing to be able to hang the Olympic rings on bridges or across buildings for postcard-pretty pictures. It’s quite another to actually get stuff done. Little stuff. Big stuff. What do recent events in the cities suggest about that?

It is essential, moreover, to have a team, and in particular charismatic figures, around whom a bid can be built. These are lessons from the Chicago 2016 and New York 2012 bids, and from the winning London 2012 and Rio 2016 teams, too, and this is another reason why the USOC sought Tuesday to buy time.

Another: you can bet that per Agenda 2020 the key watchwords now are sustainability and legacy. Probst, again, responding to a question on that teleconference: “Existing venues are a plus, for sure.”

For now, the USOC is — as it should — playing it cool.

No need to get out in front of the game when, legitimately, time is on the USOC’s side.

This, too, from Probst, and this is yet another lesson from Chicago 2016 and New York 2012, which were bids that were mostly about Chicago and New York. “We want to think about this,” meaning the 2024 city, whichever one it turns out to be, “as America’s bid,” and there you heard first the inkling of a probable bid slogan, “not just that particular city.

“And hopefully we can energize the country, and get the country to engage with the Olympic movement, inspire youth to get involved with sport. So not only do we hope that there are benefits for the individual city but we hope that it will have a positive impact on the country as well.”


2020: Signals in black and white

The 2020 evaluation report the International Olympic Committee published Tuesday ran to 101 pages, without annexes, maps and so on. This so-called technical report was finalized in April, before the unrest erupted in Istanbul, and so the IOC is in the sensitive position of having put out a document that may have already been overtaken by events. Even so, it is clear that this report describes Istanbul as a large and complex city with a widespread plan that would be more difficult to deliver than Madrid's or Tokyo's; that Madrid is in good shape in terms of compactness and things already being built; and that Tokyo, in terms of risk, is predictably the least problematic.

The riots and protests almost surely have enhanced the chances of the other two candidates. As Istanbul's mayor, Kadir Topbas, said Monday, images of the violence have tarnished Turkey's image, and if it keeps going on, "Istanbul stands to lose."

The IOC will meet next week in Lausanne, Switzerland, to hear presentations from all three 2020 bid cities. It will pick the 2020 winner by secret ballot Sept. 7 at a session in Buenos Aires.

The challenge confronting the Istanbul bid is straightforward. As the evaluation report notes on page 9, "Istanbul 2020 aspires to reposition Turkey and to foster global understanding and inclusiveness by being the first secular Muslim country to host the Games."

At the root of the unrest in Turkey, however, is the perception among many of the protestors of a shift away from the secular and toward the religious -- that is, toward a more Islamic society.

That has to give pause to any thinking member of the IOC.

Asked on a conference call Tuesday with reporters about the violence, Istanbul 2020 bid leader Hasan Arat said, "We will be very open. Now the protests are largely calmed down. We will tell them how it starts and how it ends. We will answer any questions they have," adding a moment later, "IOC members are very experienced, and they understand the Games are seven years away."

At the same time, there are indeed bound to be questions.

Like -- the evaluation report says in describing the Istanbul project, on page 10, "As a major user of social media, an emphasis would be placed on the use of social media, particularly with regard to engaging young people." How, exactly, would that work in a country where the current prime minister has called Twitter a "menace," and says, "The best example of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society."

Or -- turning to a more regular evaluation report subject, traffic:

The transport plan for Istanbul's 38 venues, divided into four zones and seven venues "across the city"? The bid says travel times would amount to a maximum 35 minutes. The commission? That "may be optimistic for the most distant venues."

Istanbul's population now totals 13 million. It's due to grow to 16 million by 2020 with car ownership growing by 10 percent annually. Even with an expanding metro system, the commission thus "believes that the risk of road congestion during the Games remains high."

Compare that to the language for Tokyo's transport section: "robust."

Note the difference in the IOC code words for the "ambitious" Istanbul opening ceremony: "close attention," "detailed planning," "operational complexities."

Or the dry, non-judgmental way the report assesses the Spanish economy. It notes that in 2012 it was in recession. Then it simply cites growth rates between 2013 and 2016. Then: "the Commission believes that [the] Spanish economy should be able to support the delivery of the Games."

This, of course, has been for many the primary concern about the Madrid campaign -- and that's all the report has to say about it, no more.

That, though, is not the most interesting take-away in this report.

Normally, evaluation commission reports tend to be so technical and analytical that many IOC members, candidly, don't even read them.

This 2020 evaluation report, however, is -- even factoring in the unrest in Turkey -- worth a close read. There are, like the Istanbul traffic and the Spanish economy, signals in this document that are there to be read. Whether they ultimately prove decisive is yet to be determined, of course -- but they are for sure there in black and white.

On page 68 comes a distillation of Tokyo''s finances, what's drily called a "Hosting Reserve Fund." That's the $4.5 billion in cash that's been sitting in the bank since Tokyo bid, and lost, for the 2016 Games.

Again, and for emphasis -- that's $4.5 billion, in cold cash.

That sum is held by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The national government has pledged to spend the money -- estimates vary from $1.5 to $1.9 billion -- needed to re-do the Olympic Stadium in time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and, if Tokyo wins, the 2020 Summer Games. So that's money that wouldn't come out of the $4.5 billion.

As the commission notes on page 68, that $4.5 billion "exceeds the proposed amount of government funded capital expenditures associated with the Games and its presence significantly reduces the risks normally inherent in the delivery of Games infrastructure by government."

In the very next sentence: "Furthermore, during the Commission's visit, it was clarified that the fund, which was established at the time of Tokyo's bid for the 2016 Games and has remained in place since that time, could also be used for Olympic-related purposes not linked to construction, provided that the appropriate authorizations were obtained."

Olympic-related purposes not linked to construction?

The mind can imagine dozens if not hundreds of uses for such a fund -- all of it legal, all of it appropriately authorized.

Particularly since the report also helpfully notes that no capital investment would be requires for transport, airports, accommodation, electrical infrastructure or security.

Little wonder the Tokyo 2020 bid team adeptly put out a press release noting, among other matters, the "several references" to the "Hosting Reserve Fund" and saying it was, overall, "extremely pleased."


Istanbul 2020's dilemma

The backers of Istanbul's 2020 Olympic bid can seek to spin this all they want. The International Olympic Committee's senior leadership can make like this is all maybe just a passing threat.

But what happened -- and is happening in Turkey -- is not normal. Protests make up the fabric of everyday democracy. But using water cannons and tear gas on thousands of your citizens, and making the front pages of newspapers all over the world -- that's not usual. And when it happens in the context of an Olympic bid, especially with just three weeks to go until you're due to tell your story to the 100 members of the IOC at an assembly in Lausanne, Switzerland, that presents an extraordinary -- if not unprecedented -- dilemma.

Time is ticking. Every day with protests in the streets in Turkey brings the Istanbul bid up against these questions:

Does the IOC want to take on this risk for seven years?

How does the team from Istanbul go now to Lausanne in a few weeks and, in good faith, convince the IOC there's little to no risk?

The unrest in Turkey comes just days after all three 2020 bids -- Istanbul, Madrid, Tokyo -- made presentations at the SportAccord convention in St. Petersburg, Russia, each claiming to be the safe choice in an uncertain world. The IOC will pick the 2020 city on Sept. 7 in a vote in an all-members assembly in Buenos Aires.

In St. Petersburg, Istanbul 2020 leader Hasan Arat reiterated one of the bid's tag lines, saying, "In the past, Turkey bid for the Games as an emerging nation. This time, Turkey is bidding as an emerged nation."

For the IOC, security is -- as the current president, Jacques Rogge, is given to say -- priority Number One. This has been the case since the 1972 Munich Games, when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

Since April's Boston Marathon bombings, security issues at high-profile sport events have taken on renewed urgency. Plans for the 2014 Sochi Games, now just months away, are being subjected to heightened scrutiny.

It's against that backdrop that the situation in Istanbul and across Turkey continues to unfold.

Monday's protests marked the fourth straight day of unrest in major Turkish cities, the situation escalating with the first reports of deaths at two demonstrations. A protestor in Ankara died after a vehicle slammed into a crowd there late Sunday, according to Associated Press, citing a medical official. And in the southern border town of Antakya, a 22-year-old man died; there were conflicting reports about the cause of his death.

Tuesday saw the IOC leadership headed for New York, and the International Forum on Sport for Peace & Development, jointly sponsored by the United Nations. In Turkey, the protests moved into Day Five; in Ankara, the capital, hundreds of riot police backed by water cannons deployed around the office of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Before leaving on an official visit Monday to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, Erdogan suggested the demonstrations were tied to "extremists" led by political opponents trying to overthrow his government.

The IOC is used to protests. The peaceful kind come up all the time in Olympic bids. But widespread confrontation with police in an Olympic context -- that hasn't been seen since the Beijing torch relays in London, Paris and San Francisco in the spring of 2008.

This is different. Beijing had won the Games seven years before. Istanbul is bidding.

It's different twice over because, fair or not, these protests are arising in a country that has a Muslim majority. Indeed, it's a primary selling point of the Istanbul bid that going to Turkey in 2020 would make for the first Games in a nation with a Muslim majority. It makes for a fascinating connotative turn of language, incidentally, that the Istanbul team quite deliberately has throughout its bid used the word "Muslim," not "Islamic."

But, of course, that is -- at their core -- what the protests in Istanbul are all about.

The violence was originally sparked by government plans to build on an Istanbul city park.

It broadened Friday into nationwide anti-government unrest that turns on deep-seated concerns that the Turkish government, led by Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), is trying to impose more-conservative Islamic values on the officially secular country.

Which in Turkey better -- or best -- reflects key values there right now?

That community activists helped clean up a central Istanbul park after protests there?

Or that the government last month tightened regulations on alcohol sales and use?

Or that Erdogan has blamed the unrest on on what he called "lies" circulating on Twitter and other social networks: "There is this curse called Twitter. It's all lies … That thing called social media is the curse of society today."

The Turkish mainstream media has provided scant coverage of the demonstrations. On Twitter, however, protestors have shared graphic evidence of wounded protestors.

Bid organizers on Sunday issued a statement that said they were "monitoring the regrettable situation" in Istanbul "very carefully" and while buoyed by the "positive community spirit in helping to clean up and repair damage," the situation remains "fluid."

The statement also says, "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. The slogan for our Olympic bid is 'Bridge Together' and there is a common desire to unite in the Olympic spirit and show the world that we can work together for a better Turkey."

No matter what, the IOC evaluation commission report, due to be made public June 25, won't mention a word about the unrest. The report, a culmination of visits earlier this year to all three cities, is already in the process of being printed.

On Monday, Denis Oswald, a leading Swiss member of the IOC, speaking in a conference call at which he outlined his plans for his presidential candidacy, said of the situation in Turkey, "It's a beginning of a protest that can happen in any democratic country For the time being we'll see how it develops, how important this protest is. We have had that in many countries where we had Olympic Games.

"I don't think it would necessarily affect the candidature. We are still three months away from the decision. It will depend if this continues and develops, but for the time being I don't think it's a real threat for the candidature."

Germany's Thomas Bach, an IOC vice president and another presidential candidate, also said he didn't think the protests would be a factor in the bid race.

He told the German wire service dpa, "It's not going to have any influence on the decision of the IOC members. All of them are experienced enough to realize that you are talking about a bid for the Olympic Games in seven years."

Both Bach and Oswald are lawyers. One of the things they teach you in law school is a concept called an "excited utterance." It means an unplanned reaction to a startling event -- something that's said so spontaneously it's then considered so trustworthy to be an exception to the rule that bars hearsay from being admitted to evidence.

After police had confronted tens of thousands of people in Istanbul's Taksim Square, here was mayor Kadir Topbaş in an interview:  "As Istanbul's mayor going through such an event, the fact that the whole world watched saddens me. How will we explain it? With what claims will we host the 2020 Olympic Games?"


Istanbul 2020: James Bond's new hangout


ISTANBUL -- There once was a time, and candidly it was not all that long ago, when if you said, "Turkey," referring to the country, not Thanksgiving, the reference that not infrequently came to the minds of many might well have been the Oscar-winning movie "Midnight Express," depicting American Billy Hayes' time in an infamous Turkish prison, caught trying to smuggle two kilos of hashish at the Istanbul airport. In some ways, Istanbul now is as it was when Hayes was here. As it ever may be. When the sun rises over the hills, it reveals the beauty of mosques and minarets reaching toward the sky. Several times a day, the cry to prayer still beckons the faithful.

Yet this city -- now teeming with nearly 15 million people -- is, in many ways, unrecognizable from the time Billy Hayes met his fate, moving to embrace a new era.

Skyscrapers now dot the skyline, too. Billboards are everywhere, and some of them show pretty girls in nothing but fetching green camisoles. A fancy upscale mall on one of the city's main streets features not only shops like those you could find in London but Wagamama, the noodle chain, too.

This is the message Istanbul is carrying to the International Olympic Committee as it presses its bid for the 2020 Summer Games: it, like Turkey, has arrived on the world stage, and the Games would not only cement that arrival but further propel Istanbul's development as one of the world's great centers in the 21st century.

As Turkey's president, Abdullah Gül -- who bears a resemblance to the American actor, George Clooney -- said in an interview with a small group of international journalists Sunday, the meeting taking place at a former hunting lodge about a half-hour from Istanbul's historic waterfront, "We are very ambitious in this bid."

Istanbul 2020 bid leader Hasan Arat, left, and Sir Craig Reedie, head of the IOC evaluation commission, aboard a new Istanbul metro subway car en route to the would-be Olympic Park // photo courtesy Istanbul 2020

Madrid and Tokyo are also in the 2020 race. The IOC is due to pick the winner Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires.

An IOC evaluation team on Sunday went through the first of a four-day tour of Istanbul's plan. It spent last week in Madrid. It saw Tokyo March 4-7.

Madrid and Tokyo are both well-developed world capitals. Each already has most of the infrastructure needed to stage an Olympics. Tokyo would spend $4.9 billion to ready for 2020, and has it in the bank; Madrid's infrastructure costs -- this is its third straight bid -- are estimated at $1.9 billion, which in this kind of competition is remarkably low.

For those two cities, the challenge is to present a compelling narrative about why the IOC ought to pick one or the other.

In Istanbul, it's a completely different story.

Here the sell is full of strands and would seem, at first blush, crazy easy. It's a "bridge to excellence," or whatever their new slogan is going to be -- they're going to unveil it sometime this week.

This is Istanbul's fifth bid. It tried for the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Games. The 2012 bid was cut before the final round; the 2008 campaign, which took place in 2001, made it to the finals but then was eliminated in the second round, with only nine votes, Beijing winning handily with 56.

"Turkey bid four times as an emerging nation. This time," bid chairman Hasan Arat said at a Sunday night news conference, "Turkey is bidding as an emerged nation."

These would be the first Games in a Muslim country.

These would be Games linking -- literally -- Europe and Asia. Imagine, Arat said, seeing rowing in Asia in the morning and golf in Europe in the afternoon.

These would be Games befitting the IOC's expansionist trend in recent elections in recognizing the strength of assertive regional and global players (see, for instance, China 2008, Russia 2014, Brazil 2016, South Korea 2018).

In Turkey, the challenge in this 2020 election is not why but how.

Because rarely in life is anything worthwhile ever crazy easy.

And for as compelling a narrative as they might be able to present in Istanbul, the issue here is also super-straightforward:

It's not just the technical piece -- meaning, can they get it done, and on time, and on budget?

It's -- in this environment, can they get roughly 55 voters in the IOC to believe all that can happen?

The Istanbul 2020 plan proposes the spending of $19.2 billion in infrastructure.

That is 10 times Madrid's figure, and that is certain to be an issue in a world in which finance makes for front-page headlines day after day.

That infrastructure is, by design, spread out. It would link four sports-related clusters.

For better or worse, the Rio 2016 plan is also a four-cluster plan. As everyone who moves in Olympic circles knows, the Rio project is dogged by delays so significant that comparisons to the Athens 2004 Games are now matter-of-fact.

Istanbul is not Rio. The comparison is hardly perfect. Nor is it, maybe, fair. But IOC elections are not fair. What matters are perceptions. And this election is going to take place in September with Rio absolutely part of the dynamic.

And Sochi 2014, too. Costs there have risen to more than $50 billion.

Getting around and between the four Istanbul clusters is going to be one of the issues sure to draw close attention in the evaluation commission report, when it is released before the IOC's all-members meeting July 3-4 in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the 2020 race.

The IOC came here knowing the traffic was a bear. Usain Bolt runs 100 meters in nine-pus seconds. Along the waterfront Saturday night, it took more than five minutes to go the same distance in a car. The locals shrugged the same way they do when they talk in Los Angeles about the 405 -- it's life.

The Istanbul team, for its part, came prepared to show the aggressive tack they're taking in building a metro system, aiming to change the way people get around town. The commission even took a ride Sunday on a brand-new line out to what is already being called Olympic Park, a development northwest of the waterfront.

By 2018, Arat said, the metro system will feature some 264 kilometers -- 164 miles -- of rail lines.

The president of Turkey, Abdullah Gül, meets the press

On the road, it took just under 45 minutes to get back from the would-be Olympic Park to the waterfront. This was on a Sunday night. It's life.

There are two schools of thought about such a drive.

One is that this is precisely why you have an event like the Olympics. It super-charges development; for public policy wonks, you get done in seven years -- because of the fixed deadline of an opening ceremony -- what might otherwise take 20 to 40.

The other school holds that this is exactly why you don't plunk an event like the Olympics in a place like Istanbul. If it already takes 45 minutes and you are about to load in thousands more people, most of whom don't speak the language and it's the middle of summer -- is that a recipe for racing in the streets?

Proponents of the second school, moreover, would point to, say, Beijing. It's four and a half years after the 2008 Games, they would note, and given all the infrastructure improvements there, would the pollution levels now in Beijing suggest that people are driving less, or more?

To say here in Istanbul, however, that they prefer the first of those arguments would be a gentle understatement. They are brimming with confidence.

It's almost as if they feel as their time has come. Indeed, Gül went so far Sunday as to list the several reasons why, in his words, "we deserve" the 2020 Games -- political stability, economic growth, meaningful physical legacy, an event that at the center of the western world that could cross cultural, religious and racial boundaries.

"Deserve" in Olympic bidding is a concept fraught with peril. Even so, in Turkey, right here, right now, they might ask -- remember James Bond? The guy from the London 2012 opening ceremony? He didn't lack for confidence. That guy filmed his last movie here, "Skyfall." And it was a blockbuster.

What else is there to say?

Arat, welcoming a handful of international reporters to town Saturday evening, said, "We believe very much in our concept and in our city. We are in it to win it."