LONDON (AP) — Despite anti-government protests, doping scandals and low attendance at an international football tournament, leaders of Istanbul's bid for the 2020 Olympics say the project enjoys overwhelming domestic support and is picking up momentum ahead of the IOC vote.
Turkish officials came to London on Thursday to share in the anniversary celebrations of the 2012 Olympics and promote their bid, which is in the final weeks of the race against Madrid and Tokyo. Bid officials from all three cities are now traveling the world to seek support in the lead-up to the Sept. 7 vote in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Istanbul bid has been seeking to shake off the impact of the demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that swept across Turkey in June. Turkish police were criticized for their crackdown on the protests.
"We've talked a lot about this issue," Istanbul bid leader Hasan Arat told The Associated Press. "Now we concentrate on our technical excellence. We feel the last 45 days will be very important for us and we will work a lot. It's like a final game. We will go in it to win it. That's why we feel very strong right now."
The three bid cities made technical presentations to the IOC members in Lausanne, Switzerland, earlier this month and will make their final presentations on the day of the vote. In the meantime, bid officials will be traveling to the world swimming championships in Barcelona, the world athletics championships in Moscow month and other events.
"I don't want to comment on the others, but Istanbul is really picking up after Lausanne," Arat said. "Now we are doing really very well. I can feel that from the Olympic world." Istanbul's bid has also been affected by a spate of doping cases among Turkish athletes. Last month, eight Turkish track and field athletes, including 2004 Olympic hammer silver medalist Esref Apak, and eight Turkish weightlifters were caught doping.
In May, Olympic 1,500-meter champion Asli Cakir Alptekin and two-time European 100-meter hurdles champion Nevin Yanit were charged with doping violations. Dozens of Turkish athletes were reported to have tested positive before last month's Mediterranean Games in Turkey.
"This is a global issue," Arat said. "You need more education. What Turkey is doing now is very good, pushing and testing. Those who are found cheating will be punished. We are really working very tough and I think the NOC (national Olympic committee) is doing very well and Turkish anti-doping agency is doing very well. We will not let anybody to continue like this. We will very tough on that."
FIFA, meanwhile, has criticized Turkey for the record-low attendances at this month's Under-20 World Cup and said it could hurt Istanbul's chances of getting the Olympics. "We don't have any problem like this," Arat said, citing good attendance at last year's world indoor athletics championships, short-course swimming championships and WTA championships in Istanbul.
"Turkey has a great potential of having spectators for the games," he said. "We have no problem." Arat said public support for the Olympic bid has risen to 94 percent among Istanbul residents. He said the bid committee carried out its own survey "about two months ago," which would have been just before the protests started.
The 94 percent support level is significantly higher than the 83 percent figure recorded in a poll carried out earlier this year by the IOC. That was already the highest support among the three bid cities, with 76 percent for Madrid and 70 percent for Tokyo.
"The support is very strong and remaining positive," Arat said. "We have the highest results from the IOC poll. It will increase more before Buenos Aires." Istanbul also elaborated on plans for the opening ceremony, saying it would be held in a 70,000-capacity stadium with seating for 10,000 athletes and could also be viewed by up to half a million people in special seating areas along the Bosphorus strait separating Europe and Asia.