ANKARA, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- Istanbul, the largest city of Turkey with 15 million residents, lost the 2020 Olympics bid on Saturday to Tokyo due to Syria crisis, doping scandals, lack of infrastructure and flurry of anti-government protests.
Despite country's robust economy, boasting youth and great charm of the city that straddles along two continents with rich history and culture, members of the International Olympic Committee in its 125th session decided to award the right to host the 2020 Games to Tokyo.
On its fifth try, Istanbul was again unsuccessful to win the bid, which would have otherwise brought Olympics for the first time to the Middle East and to a country with predominantly Muslim majority.
"It did not happen unfortunately. Yet we made Turkey known all over the world. This is not insignificant in itself," Volkan Bozkir, the chairman of Foreign Relations Commission in Turkish Parliament, said right after the announcement of the decision.
Istanbul competed against Madrid and Tokyo as final sales pitches were made by candidate cities on Saturday morning ahead of the vote. In the first round of the voting, Madrid was eliminated.
Tokyo, which hosted the 1964 Olympics, campaigned on safety and economic wellbeing. It was touted as favorite among all three contenders. Yet its candidacy was dealt a blow recently when the leak of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima plant was revealed to the public.
Spain was also dodged because of severe economic crisis and huge youth unemployment.
After attending to the G-20 meeting of major economies in St Petersburg, Russia, this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Buenos Aires to address members of the Olympic Committee. He was accompanied with large delegation of ministers, senior officials and sports writers.
In the morning presentation that lasted 45 minutes, the Turkish prime minister said choosing Istanbul as the host country would contribute to peace in the region because Istanbul represents a city of peace and tolerance.
"It will be the bridge to link the past with the future and link continents, cities and the legacy of mankind. We see the Olympic Games as the rings of peace, sharing and respect," Erdogan explained.
After losing to Tokyo, Erdogan said advancing to the final round was a success for Turkey.
Istanbul was nominated for the fifth time to host Olympics as the city boasted its special linking Europe and Asia together in a Muslim majority nation. Turkey's young population with a deep affection to sports was also cited as an advantage for Istanbul.
PLEDGES VERSUS REALITY
Tokyo campaigned on its already-built infrastructure while Turkey touted its pledges to build one.
Istanbul recently started investing multi-billion U.S. dollars to develop city's infrastructure including building a third airport, third bridge and other projects. With Olympic-specific projects worth 2.9 billion dollars, the city has a total budget of almost 20 billion dollars to spend in less than a decade. Tokyo has amassed 4.9 billion dollars for Olympics and said it is ready to spend when it wins.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan travelled to Argentina to shore up Istanbul's bid, saying that huge construction projects for Istanbul can be managed well with Turkey's growing economy.
Yet IOC members did not buy Babacan's appeal and opted for a safer bet Tokyo who has excellent infrastructure in place.
The IOC members are already concerned over 2016 Olympics in Rio where a series of construction projects were stalled when Brazil has seen two months of protests against corruption and overspending in the preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
In 2009, IOC members were mainly motivated to award Games to Rio because Brazil was the first country in South America to host Olympic Games. The same logic applied to Turkish candidacy as well because Istanbul, linking Asia and Europe together, never hosted Olympic Games and neither did any Muslim-majority country for that matter.
The fact that Turkey successfully staged the Olympic-like Mediterranean Games in the city of Mersin in June and was hailed with building high-quality venues in record time was not taken into account.
BUMPS ON THE ROAD
Turkish candidacy was dealt a blow in recent months when a small sit-in protest to conserve a green park in Istanbul quickly morphed into a nationwide anti-government rallies.
Turkish officials have tried to downplay protests, saying that peaceful protests are part of democracy.
"I believe they were all peaceful and friendly demonstrations that any democratic country might have faced," Hasan Arat, the chairman of Istanbul's bidding committee, said.
A day before IOC members gathered in Argentina to cast their votes, Turkish riot police were confronting hundreds of university students in the Turkish capital in protest against a municipality project to build a road across part of their campus.
The flurry of revelations for doping scandals involving Turkish athletes was also an embarrassment for the country. In a bid to soothe concerns on doping, Turkish presentation on Saturday emphasized zero tolerance to doping.
Downplaying the dope scandals, Turkey has said it would apply strict anti-doping policy and incidents prove that the country is right on track.
"This work is part of a concerted, and much more aggressive, anti-doping policy in Turkey that has been in place for over six months and will be further reinforced with the re-accreditation of the Wada-licensed anti-doping laboratory in Ankara later this year," Ugur Erderner, president of Turkey's National Olympic Committee and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) executive board, recently said.
SYRIA ON THE BACKGROUND
Syrian crisis and looming US-led attack on Arab nation over alleged chemical weapons use on civilians added more woes to Istanbul' s candidacy. Turkish officials say Syria is far away from Istanbul city and the Olympics Games is seven years from now.
Arat underlined that Turkey has showed another example of its Olympic spirit by welcoming more than half a million Syrian refugees into Turkey and spending almost 734 million dollars on shelter, food, health and education for them.
Syria was in the minds of IOC members on Saturday when they quizzed Turkish delegation.
In response to a question from a member of the Olympics Committee who asked what hosting the games in Turkey would mean to the wider region, Erdogan replied that Turkey is a country of unity and diversity at the same time, saying that hosting games in Istanbul will shore the spirit of friendship, sharing and peace.