Commentary Magazine


Should a Muslim Nation Host the Olympics?

The answer to that question is sure, why not? Any country able to invest the resources and organize such a spectacle, and willing to host delegations from around the world including from countries they do not recognize should have their shot. But religion should not be the determining factor. Don’t tell that to Turkey, though. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees the world through a religious prism. The genocide in Darfur? Impossible. After all, he argued when welcoming Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir. “A Muslim can never commit genocide.”

Now Erdoğan has rooted Turkey’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics in religion. “No country with a majority of Muslim population has ever hosted the Olympics,” he said while visiting London last week. “Istanbul has bid to host the Olympics five times but has never been handed the rights. This is not a fair approach.” The Istanbul 2020 logo features not the bridge between civilizations, but rather minarets and mosques. No previous Olympic emblem has featured religious symbols.

If Erdoğan advocates viewing the world through a religious prism, then perhaps he can also embrace the Tel Aviv Olympics in 2024 and Bombay Olympics in 2028. If it is time for a majority Muslim state to host the Olympics, it would make sense if the first would be a country like Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country and one noted for its relative moderation compared to the rest of the Islamic world. Qatar certainly has the resources, both to bribe the International Olympic Committee and to stage the games, and certainly Arab states would like the honor. Morocco is as much a bridge between civilizations as Turkey but, in recent years, has been far more tolerant. As regions go, neither Africa nor the Caribbean has ever hosted the Olympics.

Turkey should one day host the games. Istanbul is a beautiful city. But Turkey should only have that honor when it lives at peace with its neighbors, withdraws from Cyprus, and shows it can manage basic infrastructure like its highways and bridges. It needs to release its journalists from prison, and reach a settlement with its Kurdish population. Let’s hope the International Olympics Committee will choose a country on that country’s merits; they should not implicitly endorse Erdoğan’s desire to see the world through a religious lens.