Olympics, No Thanks! Local Opposition Grows On Eve Of 2020 Host Announcement

Two weeks ahead of the naming of the 2020 Olympics location, as officials in Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo do last-minute bidding, protests rise in each city against the effects of hosting the Games.

Priority lane?
Priority lane?
Alpbugra Bahadir Gultekin

ISTANBUL - We will soon know who will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and excitement is growing in the three finalist cities – Istanbul, Madrid, Tokyo – before the announcement in Buenos Aires on Sep. 7.

Istanbul’s dream of hosting the Olympics began in the 1990s with the slogan “Meet Where The Continents Meet.” But if that dream is deferred again, Egemen Bagis, Minister of European Union Affairs and Istanbul's chief advocate for the Games, has already identified the cause: “The Gezi Park protests are responsible if we do not get the Olympics,” he said in a recent speech, noting that there had been two public applications from Turkey against Istanbul’s candidacy.

Indeed, there are organized groups that do not want the Olympics in Istanbul, as well as Tokyo and Madrid. While there are minor differences among their answers, Olympic opponents in all three cities share many of the same trepidations if the Games come to town.


The capital of Spain also wanted to host the Summer Olympics of 2016 but lost out to Rio de Janeiro. Madrid's candidacy of 2020 has the unofficial slogan of ‘this time it is different,’ though Spain's economic crisis is the toughest hurdle for the city to overcome.

Indeed, the Olympics adversaries of Madrid have staged several protests, including one during the visit of the International Olympics Committee (IOC). The reason for the opposition is simple: money.

Domingo Patiño, a leader of PAH, one of the most active anti-Olympics groups in Spain, said a budget of $2.5 billion dolars will be spent for the games if Madrid becomes the host, which could eventually rise to $4 billion with additional costs. "This is a great burden for a city already so deep in debt,” he said.

Patiño recalled that Barcelona was the host of the 1992 Summer Olympics and argued the plans for the games will create “real estate chaos” in Madrid similar to what happened in the other Spanish city. “The Olympics were used as a tool for the urban renovation projects in Barcelona. People were evicted; facilities and hotels were erected where their homes used to be. And suddenly, real estate prices went through the roof," said.

The biggest supporters of the Olympics are not ordinary people, concludes Patiño, but "the real estate speculators and big construction companies.”


The Japanese capital was also a failed candidate for 2016, after spending $200 million during the application process. Yet despite the money spent, there are fewer Olympics adversaries in Japan than either Spain or Turkey.

Still, Mayoko Nagochi is from a group that organizes opposition on Facebook, focused on the economic consequences of hosting the Games: “The budgetary deficit of the country is rising constantly. The Olympics stadium alone costs $1.5 billion. These costs return to the people as taxes.”

Nagochi’s worries are not economic. If Tokyo is selected for the Games, the canoe races are to be held at the Kasai Water Park which is yet to be built. However, this area is on the migration path of many species of birds and a resting spot for some of them. The environment will be irrevocably damaged if the water park gets built there, says Nagochi.


The “No To Olympics” movement in Istanbul notes that the city's population is 15 million; it will be 18 million by 2020. It is already almost four times more than this geographical area can bear, and the most strategic positions of Istanbul are selected for the Olympic projects. The third bridge already started to damage the forests and water basins of Istanbul. The 420 square kilometers green land around the third bridge will be made available for construction with the excuse of the Olympics.

Members of the movement said the Olympics will be used as a tool to attract investors to the country, while the natural, cultural and historical heritage of the city will be destroyed in the process. “Countries are pulled into debt spirals with doubling Olympics budgets," the group said in a statement. "This will be a burden on the economy. We have seen the worst in Athens. One of the reasons of the unrest in Brazil is also such a budget.”

The anti-Olympic platform in Istanbul states: “Urban renovation is a disaster, bulldozer after bulldozer is advancing in neighborhoods…and forced evictions will be more violent. We know about the Olympics from the cities that hosted them with pride and excitement and afterwards were left with destroyed neighborhoods, heavy debts, displaced millions and facilities left to rot.”

So, what is the alternative offered by the platform? They recommend to learn from examples like the city of Chicago, which withdrew its candidacy. "We need our governments to spend time, energy and resources on the actual needs and problems of our cities," said the Turkish opposition group. "Instead of investing in Olympics, which enriches only the private entrepreneur, they should invest in a future for our children to lead a good and secure life. To the people who accuse us for putting the government in a hard position, we recommend to look at what has happened to the countries that hosted the Olympics.”

Protests for Soci 2014 and Rio 2016

While the Gezi Park events were ongoing in Istanbul, a similar reaction was growing in the streets of Brazil; the host country of the 2016 Summer Olympics. The protests against the increase of the public transportation fares transformed into reactions against the Olympics budget. And even for the Winter Olympics of 2014 to be held in the Russian city of Soci has been the target of criticism, though of a different nature: ethnic Circassians in the area who accuse Russia of genocide and LGBT organizations angry about a recent anti-gay law.

As protest movements of all kinds grow around the world, the next Olympic host announcement in less than two weeks will assign a "winner" to either Tokyo, Madrid or Istanbul. Be careful what you wish for...

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]


Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.



• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.



Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.


The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

➡️


€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.


Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

➡️


"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.


Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

DO YOU FIND PEOPLE WHO WRITE IN ALL CAPS PARTICULARLY ANNOYING? Feel free to COMPLAIN, or otherwise let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!