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Turkey

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.

Madrid

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.”

Tokyo

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.

Istanbul

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...

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