Istanbul has achieved sultans' dream: Olympics bid chief

PARIS (AFP) - The Istanbul bid for the 2020 Olympic Games has achieved a dream held by the sultans who used to rule Turkey in bringing both the continents the city straddles together as one, their bid chief told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday.

Mr Hasan Arat, who spoke to AFP by phone from Lausanne after Istanbul had handed over their candidature file to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said with Istanbul's first underground tube train line to be opened on Oct 29 this year, the bid had succeeded in bringing Asia and Europe together.

The tube will re-inforce the ties between the two sides of the city, which have been connected by the Bosphorous Bridge that opened in 1973 and then a second one in 1988.

European Turkey makes up just 3 per cent of the country's territory.

"The dreams of the sultans for hundreds of years has come true," said Mr Arat, a successful businessman in his own right after a career as a professional basketball player. "Asia linked to Europe and Europe linked to Asia."

Mr Arat, who in 1996 was named businessman of the year by The Economist magazine, said that the underground network would help to alleviate one of Istanbul's major problems - moving around a city renowned for its traffic snarl-ups, an issue which could cause problems with IOC members when they vote in Buenos Aires on Sep 7.

However, Mr Arat, who was accompanied among others by the two-term mayor of Istanbul, Mr Kadir Topbas, to Lausanne, said that the national government had budgeted for that in the dossier in terms of investment.

"We already have a budget in place for the next 10 years regarding transport," he said.

"US$1.2 billion (S$1.5 billion) has been set aside for improving the road infrastructure and that is not just for the bid's benefit but also for the citizens of Istanbul.

"We are promising 20 minutes transport between the village and the venues.

"It will be the first compact intercontinental Games. You will be able in 2020 to watch the beach volley ball in Asia in the morning and in the afternoon watch the basketball in Europe.

"Every day of those Games the sun will shine on both Europe and Asia."

Mr Arat, whose two children are both involved in sports with his 19-year-old daughter Zeynep a volleyball player and his 23-year-old son Ali a Turkish national waterpolo player, said that there was a significant difference from this bid to the previous four failed attempts.

"This one is totally different because for the first time, it was launched by the Prime Minister (Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan) in 2011 and government support was re-inforced with the mayor personally handing over the dossier today," he said.

Mr Arat, who said that part of the legacy the Olympics would leave would be a newly redeveloped area in the port on the Asian side of the Bosphorous, said that he and his team had learnt two things from London's sucessful hosting of the Games last year.

"London showed the world the brilliance of the redeveloped East London, which I would compare to what we are doing with the port development," he said.

"Secondly it was the Paralympics, which had an overwhelming impression. It was shown live here which has inspired a lot of disabled people here to go out and take up sports.

"It gives us great inspiration to do a lot for the Paralympics. I started wheelchair basketball at my club Besiktas 13 years ago and at the Paralympics last year our team beat the United States which has turned them into national heroes."

Mr Arat, whose team will have to see off Tokyo and Madrid to host the Games, said that there would be no let up in the race to the wire.

"I learnt from my days as a basketballer that when you are competing you need to play to the siren. The last three seconds in basketball are very important.

"We have to work very hard, meet all our obligations and then it will be up to the IOC members vote.

"The next nine months will be our future."

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