ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Madrid 2020 bid officials played up the city’s ready sports facilities while Istanbul highlighted the strength of the Turkish economy on Tuesday as the cities prepared for this week’s pitch to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Madrid, Istanbul and Tokyo will be presenting their cases to the IOC and international sports federations at a meeting in Russia with the winner elected at the IOC session in September.
“We know about the difficult news coming out (of Spain),” Madrid mayor Ana Botella told a small group of reporters in reference to the country’s financial woes. “But Madrid is a safe choice. We are improving and we are on the right track.”
Spain has been suffering from a long-running recession with unemployment at 27 percent and the country’s economy contracting for the seventh consecutive quarter.
“The money for the next seven years (of preparation if Madrid are awarded the Games) is affordable. All of us have signed the guarantees and we are improving in the big (economic) numbers,” she said.
Madrid hopes to win over IOC members as a safe choice given it already has the majority of the venues in place.
“It is not just about presenting a project or planning it but it is about realizing this project,” bid chief Alejandro Blanco said. “We have already 80 percent (of venues) ready.”
Istanbul bid chief Hasan Arat, on the other hand, held up his country’s economic growth as the Turkish city’s asset in its fifth Olympic bid in the last six votes.
“We have ensured that our bid is risk-free,” Arat said. “It is also the greatest opportunity Turkey has had given we have bid four times in the past.”
Government debt has fallen to 30 percent of gross domestic product from more than 100 percent in the crisis years early last decade while inflation and the budget deficit are also falling.
“It is a national priority and part of the 2023 plan for the 100 year celebrations of the Turkish state,” he said.
So far, instability in Syria, Iraq and between Iran and Western powers has barely affected Turkey’s fast rising prosperity, even if it has undermined the government’s declared policy of “zero problems with the neighbors”.
A double car bombing on its southern frontier earlier this month highlighted the risk of Syria’s civil war spilling across the border, with the Turks harboring more than 100,000 Syrian refugees, including military defectors and rear bases for rebels fighting former Turkish ally President Bashar al-Assad.
“The tension in Syria is 1,200 kilometers away,” Arat said. “This problem is the world’s problem. We hope it will be solved in a very short time.”
The third candidate city, Tokyo, is also trumping its own bid as a “safe choice” and a chance to recover following a deadly earthquake and nuclear disaster two years ago.
It has kept a lower profile than its competitors in St Petersburg, especially after Tokyo governor Naoki Inose had to apologize last month after what he called “inappropriate” comments he made about Istanbul and Islamic countries.
“Islamic countries, the only thing they share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes,” Inose said in an interview with the New York Times in April.
“For the athletes, where will be the best place to be? Well, compare the two countries where they have yet to build infrastructure, very sophisticated facilities.”
His remarks sparked concern in Tokyo that it might affect the Japanese capital’s bid for the Games as IOC rules ban candidates from making comments on fellow competitors.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Sonia Oxley