Low attendance at soccer tournament could hurt Turkey's bid to host 2020 Summer Olympics in Istanbul
Kathryn Schmidt is a rising senior at Wilbraham and Monson Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. She is studying in Bursa, Turkey for six weeks through a scholarship program, The National Security Language Initiative for Youth, sponsored by the State Department. The program provides scholarships to high school students to learn less commonly taught languages.
BURSA, Turkey -- Beginning in June, Turkey hosted the 2013 Under-20 FIFA World Cup. Taking place in the nation’s largest cities -- Istanbul, Antalya, and Bursa -- the competition came to a close in late July.
The 23-day tournament showcased Turkey’s strength as an effective organizer of a major international sports event and highlighted the country’s potential as a future host for the Olympic games. But while the FIFA Cup ran smoothly, there was one major problem: record low attendance.
Turnout for the U-20 games was labeled “disappointing” by the FIFA committee, despite the country’s large number of passionate soccer fans. The turnout averaged just 5,230 spectators over 50 soccer matches, even after the Turkish branch of FIFA handed out free tickets to children and families.
Jim Boyce, chairman of the FIFA tournament organizing committee, said the many empty seats at Turkish stadiums could damage Turkey’s chances of hosting another major tournament, particularly its bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in Istanbul.
Istanbul, along with Madrid and Tokyo, made final presentations last month to International Olympic Committee members in Switzerland; a decision is expected in early September.
This is Istanbul's fifth bid to host the Olympic games. Turkey has bid for the games as an “emerging nation,” according to the Turkish National Olympic Committee.
The city has been portrayed as a “risk free” choice, despite protests in the city’s Taksim Square last month.
Turkey's National Olympic Committee has portrayed the city as a bridge between western and eastern cultures, and a tolerant place. Turkey has urged the IOC to overlook current domestic issues, and fast forward to the stronger nation they say Turkey will be seven years from now.
In the midst of an international economic slowdown, the Turkish economy has remained relatively stable, despite market volatility in response to the protests. Istanbul boasts an $19 billion budget for infrastructure expansion in preparation for the games. By contrast, Madrid and Tokyo are pledging to spend $1.9 billion and $4.5 billion, respectively.
“We now have the financial strength to host the games,” said Sports and Youth Minister Suat Kilic. “Istanbul shines like a diamond. We are ready to step on to the global stage and welcome the world into our nation, as we have for a millennia.”
Recent statistics from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism show a rise in international visitors. By the year 2020, 48.5 million visitors are projected in Turkey, without factoring in a spike in visitors from a potential Olympics.
In a country with intense national identity and pride, Istanbul’s host city bid has gripped the nation. Turkish youth anxiously await the IOC’s decision.
I spoke to a group of teenagers from Bursa about Istanbul’s Olympic bid and the general consensus is they want to show the world what their country has to offer.Turkey, they argue, is no longer a developing country.
“I want to share my country...my home, with the world,” said 16-year-old Ilayda. “I think Istanbul will have the next Olympics. It is a good time for Turkey.”
The International Olympic Committee will announce the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics on Sept. 7.
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