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Istanbul launches bid to host 2036 Summer Olympics

Turkey would be first Muslim-majority nation to hold the event

Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu attends an event with athletes set to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics. (Photo courtesy of the mayor's office)

ISTANBUL -- Istanbul announced Tuesday it will bid to host the 2036 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, in an attempt to become the first Muslim-majority nation to hold the quadrennial event.

The attempt, the Turkish city's sixth, comes after it lost to Tokyo in the competition to hold the 2020 Games. In 2013, the International Olympic Committee chose the Japanese capital over Istanbul in a second ballot, after Madrid was eliminated in the first round.

The delayed Tokyo Olympics open on July 23. The 2024 edition will be held in Paris, while Los Angeles will host the 2028 Games. The Australian city of Brisbane is expected to be announced as the venue for the 2032 event at a meeting in Tokyo next week.

"To make sure Istanbul gets its deserved place on the world sports map, we are focusing on the biggest target," Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu told reporters and an audience including invited guests and athletes. "We put forward our will, and in the name of Istanbul and Turkish people, we want [to hold] the Olympics and Paralympic Games in Istanbul."

Speaking with Nikkei Asia exclusively after the launch ceremony, Imamoglu underscored that Istanbul has learned much from previous bids, noting that the megacity of 16 million people has progressed in terms of transportation and sports infrastructure.

Remaining facilities and infrastructure "can be comfortably completed within the city budget," he said, adding that the private sector can support through sponsorships and ads if there is any deficiency, as "Istanbul has very dynamic commercial capabilities as well as being a major global tourism destination."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has previously said the British capital may seek to host the 2036 or 2040 Games. India's Ahmedabad is also reportedly exploring a bid for 2036.

Ugur Erdener, a member of the International Olympic Committee and head of Turkey's National Olympic Committee, told Nikkei on the sidelines of the event that he expects three to four European cities as well as cities from the Middle East and South America to bid for the 2036 Games, signaling a tough competition. He said a decision on the venue should be expected no more than four years from now.

Imamoglu, a former amateur soccer player who also served on the board of a major soccer club, is a member of Turkey's center-left main opposition party. He became mayor by defeating Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister and key ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in 2019, ending the 25-year rule of religious conservative parties in Istanbul.

Though his tenure ends in 2024, Imamoglu's name is being circulated as a top contender to challenge Erdogan in the 2023 presidential election. Polls put Imamoglu ahead of the president in a potential race.

It is not yet known whether Erdogan's administration will endorse the Istanbul bid for 2036.

"We are in as a nation, and what we are talking about is the Olympic Games to be held 15 years from now," Imamoglu said. "No one can know who will be running the central government or Istanbul by 2036."

The mayor said the city will seek state support soon.

"Our only way is to make 16 million people of Istanbul believe in the Olympic spirit and make them believe that we can win the Olympic Games," he said. "Everyone will cooperate with every institution for this and get together, so I have no concern at all on this matter."

Imamoglu said the attendance restrictions in Tokyo mean that he cannot attend the Olympics in Japan, despite his efforts to be there.

"Very sadly, I will watch the games from home passionately and really wish all the success to the city of Tokyo, which will hold the games in such difficult conditions and I really believe that they will be very successful," he said. "God willing, we want to host Tokyoites here in Istanbul in 2036."

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