Turkish officials behind Istanbul’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics will be hoping for the chance to get their campaign back on track when the Mediterranean Games opens today in Mersin.
After more than two weeks of rioting the situation has remained relatively calm since the weekend when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cleared the protestors who had occupied Istanbul’s Gezi Park, on the city’s central Taksim Square, since May 28.
The original protest had been against a planned redevelopment of the Park, but soon snowballed into nationwide anti-Government protests after the perceived high-handed response of Erdoğan.
Mersin has been the scene of sporadic protests, including last Sunday (June 16) a walk by 2,000 anti-Erdoğan demonstrators from Baris Square. But, Turkish officials have guaranteed the safety of the 4,000 athletes from 24 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe who will be competing in the 27 sports which make up the event, which is due to last until June 30.
Mersin had been awarded the Games only in March 2011 after Volos, the original host, was stripped of the event because of the economic crisis in Greece.
Among the first countries to arrive for the event were a delegation from Cyprus, who has had an uneasy political relationship with Turkey since 1974 when there was a Turkish military invasion in response to a Greek military junta backed coup in Cyprus, leaving the island divided.
The next two weeks could be crucial in deciding whether Istanbul’s bid has a future against rivals Madrid and Tokyo. On Friday (June 21), the FIFA Under-20 World Cup is due to open with a match between France and Ghana at the Ali Sami Yen Arena in Istanbul. Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA and a voting member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is due to attend the opening match.
Since the weekend, demonstrations in Turkey’s financial capital have been limited to a protester dubbed the “standing man,” who has led a vigil on Taksim Square. Performance artist Erdem Gunduz stood silently for eight hours, facing a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey. Hundreds of others joined him in the Square, which was reopened on Monday (June 17), before being dispersed by police.
FIFA Director of Security, Ralf Mutschke, has held talks with Istanbul Vice-Governor Aziz Mercan and Erdem İren, in charge of sports event for the Istanbul police, who reassured world football’s governing body that the protests would not affect the competition.
“The overall message from the governor is Istanbul and Turkey are safe and they envisage no problems,” Mutschke, a former Interpol director, said.
“I raised the concerns from FIFA regarding the security of [our headquarters in Istanbul] and the tournament in particular and discussed the possible impacts of the demonstrations which we have witnessed over the past few days, as well as the police reaction.
“[The Vice-Governor] was very open with us and he understood our concerns.
“He ensured us that there is no security risk for the teams and all the tournament locations which, from what I have seen, I would agree with.
“It’s good we had the opportunity to raise our concerns, I believe they took it seriously and we agreed that they are going to inform us about any change in their threat assessment to the competition, the teams or any tournament locations.
“Regarding the tournament, the protesters are not targeting the competition, so it is not an issue.
“All intelligence the Governor has is telling us that there will be no problems in the stadiums, and that is also in line with our assessment from a security point of view,.”
Contact the writer of this story at email@example.com. Inside the Games is an online blog of the London Organizing Committee that staged the 2012 London Games. The blog continues to cover issues that are important to the Olympic Movement. This article is reprinted here with permission of the blog editors.