TBY talks to Hasan Arat, Chairman of the Istanbul 2020 Olympic Bid Committee, on the city as the perfect candidate for an international event and the importance of better infrastructure and a young demographic as it vies for the prize.

Hasan Arat
Hasan Arat is the Chairman of the Istanbul 2020 Bid Committee and the Vice-President of the Turkish National Olympic Committee (NOC). His sporting background includes a professional basketball career at Beşiktaş Gymnastic Club (BJK), for which he also served as Vice-President. He is also the former Vice-President of the Turkish Basketball Federation. Previously, he studied Business Administration at Istanbul University and was awarded the title of “Businessman of the Year” in 1996 by Economist magazine, the National Productivity Center of Turkey, and Dünya newspaper. In addition, Arat is the Vice-President of the Affiliate Members of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and an Executive Board member of the Turkish Tourism Investors Association (TYD).

This is Istanbul's fifth bid for the Olympics. What is different this time around?

Turkey's Olympic journey began more than two decades ago, but this time around, we have matched our 20-year dream with commitment and capacity. Istanbul is now ready to deliver. Every level of the government is aligned behind a shared vision for the city and the country's future. Hosting the Games is a core pillar of Turkey's long-term development program that culminates in the centenary of the republic in 2023. Istanbul has transformed itself since its last bid. The city has spent an average of $1.5 billion on transport upgrades every year since 2005, and by 2018 another $10 billion will have been spent on a series of groundbreaking projects: the third Bosphorus Bridge, the Haliç Metro, the Eurasia-Bosphorus road tunnel, the Marmaray rail tunnel, and a third international airport will all have made Istanbul better connected well before 2020. As a result, we have been able to guarantee athletes an average travel time of just 16 minutes to and from the venues; 51% of athletes will be accommodated within five minutes of their competition arenas. Istanbul has also earned a formidable reputation as a trusted host of some of the biggest events in world sports. We have shown time and again that we can provide the conditions athletes need to compete at their best, all with a unique Eurasian flavor that can't be found anywhere else. However, the most important difference is that this time around, all of Turkey is behind the bid. The level of government support for Istanbul 2020 is unprecedented in Turkey. For the first time ever, the bid to host the country's first-ever Olympic and Paralympic Games was launched personally by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. We have created a powerful public-private partnership (PPP); our team of national sponsors has contributed $20 million to the campaign, the largest private sector investment in any sports bid in Turkey's history. The people of Turkey also want the Games. According to our last domestic poll, 94% of respondents in Istanbul are in favor of hosting the Games, and 23 million Turkish sports fans have already expressed a desire to purchase Olympic tickets. A recent poll by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suggests that 5 million young people under the age of 25 years back our bid in Istanbul alone. We have set the lowest ticket prices at just $10, so they will be accessible to as many people as possible. If we are given the honor of hosting the Games, the Olympic family can expect a truly unforgettable reception.

Why is it significant for Turkey to host the Games as an emerging market spanning two continents?

Turkey bid four times as an emerging market, but this time, Turkey is bidding as an emerged market. We are the fastest-growing European economy and the second fastest growing OECD economy, with 5.2% average annual economic growth between 2002 and 2011—that's 3.5 times the European average. Turkey is forecast to be a top-10 global economy by 2023. Istanbul 2020's vision isn't about aspiring to international standards—it's about setting new ones. Istanbul 2020 will be the first Olympic and Paralympic Games ever staged in Turkey or the region. It will immerse the Olympic family in a brand-new environment with a rich history and a fascinating culture, unlike any other city in the world. Istanbul 2020 will also be the first-ever Olympics in a nation where nearly 50% of the population is under the age of 25. This will connect fans with the untapped potential of Europe's youngest population and the market's exciting opportunities for the first time.

What are your plans to ensure that Istanbul's Olympic facilities are put to good use after the Games is over?

Istanbul would leave a profound and lasting legacy, not just for Istanbul and Turkey but also for the region and the entire Olympic movement. We plan to build 20 world-class venues and significantly upgrade a further five. They will be a major addition to the sports world's inventory, and they will empower Turkey and other nations in the region to realize a massive untapped sporting potential. Bringing the Games to Turkey would create a generation of opportunities for the region's youth. Istanbul 2020 would arrive at a unique moment in the history of Turkey and the region, three years out from the celebration of the Republic's centenary. Now is the perfect time for Istanbul.