Turkey is one of three finalists for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Its chief competitor is Tokyo. Madrid, because of Spain’s financial woes, remains a long shot. The Turkish press often reports endorsements of its bid, most recently by former London mayor Ken Livingstone and also by U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone, whose unprofessional endorsement seemed motivated more by a desire to make himself popular in Turkey than by U.S. policy.
Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s European Union minister, has argued that bestowing the Olympics on Turkey would further Turkey’s European Union drive by undercutting European prejudice. This is ironic because, during a trip to Bulgaria in 2011, a senior aide to Bağış dismissed the Bulgarian Foreign Minister’s criticism of Turkish policy toward Hamas and Israel by questioning whether he had Jewish blood. Perhaps it is not Europe where prejudice is so ingrained.
Bağış also plays the grievance card, suggesting that the failure to award Istanbul the Olympics would be the result of anti-Muslim bias. “Bağış said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members will also have a chance to put an end to rumors that the Games are biased ‘against a belief group,’” Hürriyet Daily News reported. This too is nonsense, because the frontrunner for the 2024 Summer Games remains Dubai. The International Olympic Committee should consider candidates on a country-by-country case; to start a religious quota would be dangerous.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent outburst at the United Nation’s Alliance of Civilizations conference should end any talk for now of Turkey hosting the Olympics. Erdoğan has promised to use any international forum to criticize Israel. His 2009 temper-tantrum at Davos when talking to Israeli President (and Nobel Laureate) Shimon Peres shocked the audience. Giving Erdoğan the world stage at the Olympics could endanger the spirit of the Olympics for decades to come should he confuse hosting the Olympics with having a bully-pulpit from which to play out his obsessions.
Bashing Israel may be in vogue, but the International Olympic Committee should not assume that Erdoğan’s obsessions are singular. In recent years, he has embraced Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese leader wanted on charges of genocide. As Erdoğan’s top aide, Bağış himself has gotten in on that game, threatening military action against Cyprus.
Let us hope that, as the International Olympic Committee visits the three finalists for 2020, they do not forget what the ideals of the Olympics mean. And if Bağış is worried about a majority Muslim country never hosting the Olympics, let us hope he can find a ticket to Dubai 2024.