Editorial from Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of Istanbul
Exactly one year before the IOC’s host city selection in Buenos Aires on 7 September 2013, Kadir Topbaş reflects on why the time is right for Istanbul 2020
Today marks one year until the International Olympic Committee selects the host city of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The milestone comes just as a glorious summer in London draws to a close, having redefined the boundaries of global sporting celebration and – I firmly believe – having inspired a generation.
I was lucky enough to experience London 2012 firsthand. I felt the vibrancy of a cosmopolitan mega-city; the warmth of a country eager to welcome the world; and the passion of a people steeped in sport. To sustain that atmosphere for the duration of the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games is quite extraordinary. My most sincere congratulations must go to the President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, to the Lord Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and to Lord Sebastian Coe and his team at LOCOG. Their achievements in harnessing the spirit of a nation over the last seven years since the IOC Session in Singapore cannot be overstated.
2005 was not the right moment for Istanbul and Turkey. But our dedication to our Olympic dream never diminished. So while London was preparing to stage the Greatest Show on Earth, Istanbul was evolving into a city worthy of the mantle of host. The last seven years have seen a new Turkey emerge, and we have developed a new bid to match. Istanbul is bridging lessons of the past with new capabilities of the present. Now we are ready to deliver.
The city has spent an average of $1.2 billion a year every year since 2005 on improvements to transport infrastructure alone. Just last month we opened the first metro line on the Asian side of the city, and the proposal for a new tunnel beneath the Bosphorus – a crucial third crossing point – has just been ratified; construction will begin next year. We have made a commitment to connect our citizens with a world-class, modernised transport network. That commitment means in 2020 a city of nearly 13 million people would be able to offer Olympic and Paralympic athletes average travel times of just 20 minutes.
Our strategic development plan has transformed Istanbul into the fifth most visited destination on the planet. In 2004, Istanbul had 26,000 hotel rooms. Now, there are 63,000. That public and private investment in tourist infrastructure has fuelled a boom in the tourism industry – in the 12 months to November 2011, there was a 16% increase in visitors from abroad.
The government has identified sports events as a key national development stimulus, and our sports industry has flourished since 2005. Turkey has hosted more than 40 major events in the last seven years, many of them in Istanbul. Now the city and its sports industry professionals are regarded internationally as trusted, credible hosts for elite sport, so much so that Istanbul was named the 2012 European Capital of Sport.
Istanbul is alive with progress and possibility, driven forward by a young, dynamic and ambitious population. The time is right, and the people here can feel it. Earlier this year, 87% of people in the city were behind Istanbul 2020. Since then we have sent our largest ever delegation to the Olympic Games, and recorded our best ever performance at the Paralympic Games. The feats of our Olympians and Paralympians have captured the imagination in Turkey; our nation’s desire to bring the Games to Turkey for the first time in our history has never been greater. Just as importantly, Istanbul’s capacity to realise our vision has never been greater. Now our city is ready to host the first Games in Olympic history to span two continents at once – to reach across the Bosphorus and bridge east and west, new and old, rich history and united future.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish the very best of luck to our fellow Candidate Cities. I am sure we will continue this most remarkable of races in the same spirit of fair play and respect over the next twelve months.
The last seven years have been an exciting time for Turkey and for Istanbul, the City of Seven Hills. But the next 365 days will be more exciting still: a defining moment in the rejuvenation of an ancient city.