In 1992, Istanbul was one of the candidate cities to hold the 2000 Olympic Games along with Berlin, Manchester, Beijing and the eventual winner Sydney. That nomination was only the beginning of a long journey for Istanbul. During the last 21 years, Istanbul has been the candidate city for 2004, 2008, 2012 and lastly 2020 Games. First four nominations were failures but the city have learnt a lot about the process during these years. For 2020, Istanbul seems to be the favorite candidate if we consider the long nomination history and the the fact that Tokyo and Madrid had been given the right to host the Games before. Of course there are many factors to be considered, but these two can be considered as the prominent ones.
The important question here is that if Istanbul wins the 2020 Olympics, is it going to be the sign of a bright future for the Turkish sport, or is it going to be a short-term excitement and long-term financial burden for the city? The answer to this question depends on the strategic management decisions to be given by the Istanbul Olympic Games Organizing Committee and the Municipality of Istanbul.
We can divide this analysis into three parts: Organizational, Financial and Cultural Expectations.
From an organizational point of view, the organizing committee has a huge role. Istanbul has a 12 million population and the major problems will be the logistical difficulties concerning tight schedules of the various competitions. Although there has been major sports tournaments organized in Istanbul recently (i.e. 2010 World Basketball Championship, 2012 World Swimming Championship (25m) and so on), none of them were multi-sport or multi-venue events. Therefore it was relatively easy to organize an event under one facility. On the other hand, Olympic Games will be a multi-sport event with simultaneous competitions going on all around the city. It is going to be a major challenge.
From a financial point of view, we can see that there are many examples of Olympics that have caused heavy financial burdens for the city it was held in. The worst example in my knowledge is the Montreal 1976 Games which had created hundreds of millions of dollars debt to be paid by the municipality government over a course of 30 years after the games have finished. Also on the other hand there is the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games which was known to be the first Olympic Games that was organized totally by the support of private companies, therefore creating almost no burden on the city government. Istanbul has to choose wisely how to deal with the financial burden of the highly demanding Olympic Games and form a thorough strategic plan accordingly.
From a cultural point of view, the biggest challenge for Istanbul will definitely be to attract the citizens to follow the games live at the stadiums/arenas/courts etc. The major problem with the Turkish audience will be to create an interest to watch 'non-football' games. Unfortunately, Turkey is a pro-football country and even the government does not give enough emphasis on other sports. Only football is accepted legally as a professional sport and only the football federation has a separate law of establishment in order to make it fully autonomous. The rest of the sports have individual autonomous federations but they are all governed under one umbrella: The Sports Directorate General under the Youth and Sports Ministry.
The major challenge of organizing the 2020 Games will be how to create a sporting legacy for the future generations. If we are to forget the Olympics when the 2020/21 football season starts, then all the effort put together by thousands of people since the first nomination in 1992, will be for nothing. Of course hosting the Olympic Games will be a priceless marketing opportunity for the city and for the country, but it should be a secondary reason behind the sporting legacy it will leave for the people of Turkey. The best example of this legacy creation can be seen at the city of Barcelona. After hosting the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona has become one of the best sporting cities around Europe and also one of the best touristic locations because of the publicity the Olympics has brought. Not only Barcelona, but whole Spain has taken advantage of this opportunity and prospered as a sports nation. Currently Spain is considered as one of the most successful sporting countries of Europe for the last 20 years in general.
Istanbul has the potential to host one of the most successful Olympics ever held in the history of the Games. It is a bridge between the West and the East and although football is the most followed sport in Turkey, people are open to engage with different sports if the right opportunity is given to them. It is hard to create a sporting culture in 7 years, but if the Olympic Games are given to Istanbul, that may be the spark we need to prosper as a fully sporting country.
Published at www.globalsportsjobs.com on 27 February 2013.